By Woody Woodrum
Herd Insider Senior Editor
March 9, 2012
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Marshall University men’s basketball took one of the greatest wins in Thundering Herd history when the Herd battled Thursday in the 2012 Conference USA Tournament with an ESPN-highlight reel, three-overtime win over the No. 3-seeded Tulsa team, 105-100.
Now, the Herd might as well go out and win the whole thing.
Apparently, Marshall head coach Tom Herrion likes the idea as well.
“I just really liked us today,” said Herrion, becoming the first head coach at Marshall to win a league semi-final and advance to a championship game in 15 years.
“I thought our defense was really outstanding; we were so locked in defensively.
“Our efficiency on offense was really good, minus the turnovers.”
Marshall shot lights out and defensively turned out the lights on No. 2-seeded Southern Miss with a 73-62 upset for the second day in a row in the semi-final round of the C-USA Tournament at the FedEx Forum at Memphis, Tenn.
The Herd program heads to its first conference tournament championship game since Greg White took the 1996-97 Marshall team to the finals of the Southern Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C. against Chattanooga.
Southern Miss, who most courtside observers believe is already in the NCAA Tournament with a record of 25-8 and a RPI today a C-USA best of No. 15, falls to 0-4 all-time in C-USA semi-finals.
The Herd will meet No. 1-seeded Memphis, who knocked out No. 4-seeded UCF in Friday’s second game.
The championship with the Tigers and The Herd is at 11:30 a.m. (eastern; 10:30 a.m. central in Memphis), and will be seen nationally on CBS.
Damier Pitts led the Herd to a semi-finals victory over Southern Miss, shown driving by USM guard LaShay Page, and scored 24 points in leading No. 6-seeded Marshall to an upset win over the No. 2-seeded Golden Eagles. Marshall will face No. 1 Memphis on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (eastern; 10:30 a.m. in Memphis) after polishing off No. 2 USM and No. 3 Tulsa in triple-overtime Thursday. Herd Insider photos by Joe Murphy
The Herd played big in the game against the second-straight higher seed.
Marshall shot lights out, hitting 54.3 percent for the game (25-of-46) and even better in the second half, 65.2 percent on 15-of-23. The Herd hit 9-of-17 from three, 52.9 percent, and even better in the second half, 71.4 percent on 5-of-7 and, finally, Marshall shot 82.4 percent from the free throw line, knocking down14-of-17 in the game.
“I thought the tougher team won today,” said Southern Miss head coach Larry Eustachy. “This just goes to show you the constant lack of respect towards our conference.
“That (Marshall) was the sixth place team in our conference. We are in the NCAA Tournament – we have a 13 RPI and a 48 (strength of schedule).
“Are you kidding me: We are in the tournament and Marshall has beaten us back-to-back.”
The Herd’s defense held the Golden Eagles to just 34.2 percent shooting, making 25-of-73 shots. USM took almost 30 more shots than MU, thanks to 16 Marshall turnovers and 18 offensive rebounds by Southern Miss.
“We were a little loose with the ball, (16) is too many turnovers for us,” said Herrion.
“I was really disappointed in how loose with the ball we were, as they scored 20 points off our turnovers. But give them credit.
“Their defense was good too.”
Senior point guard Damier Pitts led the Herd in scoring, and he was the player who fouled out in regulation for Marshall against Tulsa and so, no doubt, had the freshest legs of all his teammates.
Pitts scored 24 points in the game, had five rebounds, two assists and shot 4-of-6 from three.
“We got a lot of good looks tonight,” said Pitts. “Dago Pena was knocking down shots.
“DeAndre Kane was really a good distributor tonight, finding the open man. They were sagging off on their screen and we were getting a lot of good looks off of that.”
Dennis Tinnon pulled in 13 rebounds and scored ten points in the win over So. Miss for his 11th double-double of the year. His 40 rebounds in three games is a new Conference USA record for rebounds, breaking the mark of 39 set in three games in 2005. Herd Insider photos by Joe Murphy
Junior forward Dennis Tinnon had his third double-figure rebound game in the tournament, pulling 13 boards to set a new C-USA record for rebounds in the conference tourney.’
Tinnon now has 40 rebounds in three game, passing South Florida’s Terrence Leather’s 39 rebounds, also in three games, in the 2005 C-USA Tournament before the Bulls and other teams left for the Big East.
That move cleared the way for Marshall to leave the Mid-American Conference and join C-USA that same year. MU’s last semi-final appearance had been in the 2000 MAC Tournament, also under then head coach Greg White.
Tinnon finished with his second-straight double-double, the eleventh of the season, with 10 points to go with those 13 boards.
Marshall finished tied with the Eagles in rebounding, 36-to-36, despite having only four offensive rebounds on such good shooting on the afternoon.
DeAndre Kane had just 14 points, but hit 6-of-12 from the field a day after playing 54 minutes in all three overtimes and scoring a C-USA record 40 points against TU.
The sophomore, who became Marshall’s 49th all-time 1,000-point scorer – tying the Herd with UCLA for eighth all time – led the Herd in the USM game with seven assists and had a block and three rebounds.
Kane said getting ready to play in the semi-finals, and the finals, in no problem at all for the Thundering Herd team.
“Like I said yesterday, it’s not going to be a problem,” said Kane. “We rested up and got with our trainer (Tom Belmaggio), got some rest and came in focused.
“It’s not going to be a problem tomorrow.”
He also talked again about the Herd as a team, not one player having to do all the work, just like in the three-overtime game.
“I kept getting open looks. My teammates found me and I was able to knock down shots,” said Kane of his early scoring ten of his 14 points in the second half.
But then in the second half, he deferred to a teammate for scoring.
“Damier Pitts took over (in the second half). He’s a senior, and that’s why we have a player who can take-over a game.
“I was struggling and he stepped up and took over.”
Pitts led Marshall to a 26-10 run the last 9:55 of the game.
Both junior forwards Robert Goff and Nigel Spikes picked up two blocks each, giving Goff 38 and Spikes 21 on the season.
Assistant coach Mark Cline felt his big men again made some plays that did not show up on the score sheet.
“We were filling the lanes better, and even though we only blocked six shots, I thought we altered at least that many,” said Cline, who again did radio with the head coach at the C-USA media interview room for post-game.
“Great defensive team effort in holding this team to just 34 percent shooting.”
For Southern Miss, Angelo Johnson went out firing, scoring 24 points to match Pitts for high game honors.
He made 11-of-17 shots, meaning the rest of the Golden Eagles hit just 14-of-56, or 25.0 percent.
“I knew this could be my last time playing in the FedEx Forum, so I wanted to give it all I had,” said the senior.
“They made some good shots today. We had a couple of relapses on defense, which we usually don’t have.
“We just didn’t have our game defensively today.”
Eustachy also praised the Herd offensive effort.
“Give Marshall all the credit in the world,” said the Southern Miss coach, who was firing back at anyone who suggested this loss might cost the Eagles at shot at the “Big Dance,” the NCAA Tournament.
“They are coming off a triple overtime and they had the moxy to come back and put it to us in the last ten minutes. They are well-deserving, wherever they end up.”
Where his team might end up was a hot button.
“Where is there doubt about (Southern Miss in) the NCAA Tournament? Is there doubt? They are talking about Mississippi State (being in the tournament) at No. 71 (RPI).
“There is no doubt, we are in this tournament.”
For Herrion, and the Herd, there is one more game to be played in Conference USA, against the regular-season champions who just beat the Herd by 20 points in MU’s next-to-last home game.
“It’s a terrific win against an outstanding club,” said Herrion, “an NCAA tournament team in Southern Miss that obviously had a heck of a year.
“It’s a big win for us and we are thrilled to have a chance to play for a championship.”
Marshall’s last win in a tournament championship was 26 years ago, when Rick Huckabay led the Herd to its third Southern Conference Tournament championship in four years, when Marshall won the SoCon in 1987 over Davidson College in overtime, 66-64, at the Asheville, N.C. Civic Center.
Tinnon had 15 rebounds against SMU, 12 rebounds against Tulsa and 13 against Southern Miss to set the C-USA Tournament record. His 13.3 average is just below another tournament record, 14.1 rebounds per game for the tournament. He would need 16 versus Memphis to catch Linton Johnson of Tulane, who averaged that in two games in 2002.
In five C-USA tournament games, DeAndre Kane has scored 104 points (20.8 points per game) on 38-of-88 shooting (43 percent from the floor). He also has 30 rebounds, 6.0 boards per game.
Marshall has held three opponents to .377 from the field. MU was last in defense this season, giving up .451 per game.
Meanwhile, the Herd is shooting .494 for the tournament, after only shooting 43.2 percent in the regular season. MU has hit 88-of-178 on field goals.
The Herd will try to be the fifth C-USA team to win four games in four days to capture the C-USA Tournament Championship. Houston did it in 2010, St. Louis in 2000, Charlotte in 1999 and Marquette in 1997. Houston will leave for the Big East in 2013, as Marquette did in 2005 – the same time both St. Louis and Charlotte left the league for the Atlantic 10.