HUNTINGTON — “You have to play perfect against the No. 22 ranked team,” Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said.
“This was clearly a game of two halves for us. The second was a game of ‘haves’ and the first half was ‘have-nots’ in terms of our defense, and our scoring drought.”
The Herd men’s basketball coach was speaking on playing well for a half is never good enough to beat a team with a 16-straight game winning streak, a team like Memphis (23-3, 11-0) — without a true road loss all season.
In the end, it was about the Herd’s home loss to the road-tested, No. 22 Tigers on Saturday night, 71-59, leaving Marshall (11-15, 4-7) in a three-way tie for seventh place in Conference USA with Houston and UAB.
A season’s best crowd of 6,116 (on a very busy night in the River Cities) at the Cam Henderson Center was hopeful of a win throughout the game, as Marshall outscored Memphis by five points (33-28) in the second half.
Marshall would use that run to cut a 17-point deficit at halftime as low as just five points, 46-41, with 10:44 to play.
But Memphis rode the hot shooting of Geron Johnson and Joe Jackson in the second half, hitting 3-of-3 from three over the next six minutes, to rebuild the lead and win the game.
The Herd, which squeaked past last-place Rice, 71-70, last Wednesday at home, has dropped 10 of its last 14 games.
“I’ll say this,” Tigers coach Josh Pastner said, “Marshall is a very talented, well-coached team. They have great offensive sets, and are hard to guard.
“It’s a good team win against a well-coached team. Full credit to Tom Herrion, who does a great job and runs high-level stuff.
“We knew it would be a battle.”
Memphis also got a great effort all game from 6-foot-7 sophomore Adonis Thomas, who recorded a double-double with 23 points — 15 in the first half — and pulling 10 rebounds in the win. It was his first career double-double and career scoring high.
“I challenged Adonis, telling him we needed him to get 10 rebounds today,” Pastner said. “I am very proud of him, he really played at a high level. People in Memphis need to back off this kid as he continues to get better.”
Pastner had a note for some back in Tennessee who thought Thomas was coming along too slowly.
“Guys mature at different rates. Let me coach … You be fans.”
Herrion was impressed with Thomas as well.
“He made a lot of money tonight, the best player on the floor,” Herrion said of Thomas and his possibilities of moving on to the next level in professional basketball.
“He’s a McDonald’s All-American — he played like that tonight.”
Early on, the Thundering Herd jumped to a 10-3 lead at the start of the game, and led 13-9 with 15:14 to play in the first half.
“We came out of the gate and made a few shots,” Herrion said. “It was a little bit of fool’s gold, but we didn’t get enough stops and went through a major drought. (The offense) was very inefficient in that stretch.”
Memphis fueled that drought with an 11-0 run, stretching it to an 18-2 run and a Memphis lead of 27-15 with 7:52 to play.
Marshall scored just four field goals the rest of the half and found itself down by the largest halftime deficit at home this season, 43-26.
Marshall opened the second half on a 15-3 run to trail by just five points, 46-41 with 10:44 remaining, and Memphis when into a drought and hit only 1-of-10 to open the second half.
The Tigers did not hit their first field goal until the 13:58 mark in the latter half of play, and shot just 37.9 percent in the second half.
Marshall’s defense was as improved as its shooting in the second half, after allowing the Tigers to shoot 51.4 percent mark in the first half.
What saved the Tigers were Johnson and Jackson hitting 3-of-3 from three.
Even when Marshall cut the lead to eight with two minutes left, three turnovers in the final minute of the game took away any chance to close on the Tigers.
Twenty turnovers — 10 in each half for the Herd — were too much to overcome.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Herrion said.
“We gave up 43 in the first half and gave up 28 in the second (and scored 33). You can’t have 20 turnovers at home,” herrion said. “The kids played hard, they battled … They’re supposed to.”
DeAndre Kane, who battled cramps throughout the second half, said the Herd must play hard throughout games.
“We didn’t play 40 minutes,” Kane said. “We came out both halves with great energy, but you can’t turn the ball over 20 times and get out-rebounded — we won’t win a game.”
Marshall’s Dennis Tinnon also had a double-double, his seventh of the season and 19th of his career (15 points, 13 rebounds), but Marshall was out-rebounded by Memphis, 41-to-37.
Elijah Pittman and Kane finished with 16 points apiece. Kane added seven rebounds and five assists, but turned the ball over seven times.
Pittman had six boards, but three turnovers and hit only 5-of-15 from the field, and 2-of-10 from three.
When Kane got his fourth point of the game, he passed Huntington native Hal Greer — Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member, Marshall Hall of Fame member and one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players — for 19th on Marshall’s career scoring list.
Greer played at Marshall from 1955-58, the first African-American at any formerly white college or university in West Virginia, and the first three-year letter winner of color in the nation in basketball at formerly all-white schools, and the main road into Huntington is Hal Greer Boulevard.
Kane has 1,390 points in three seasons, and up next at No. 18 is Markel Humphrey (2005-09), just 25 points away with 1,415 points.
The Herd shot 38.2 percent from the field, but just 25.0 percent (6-of-24) from three-point range.
Half of the Marshall three’s came from Kane who was 3-of-6.
Marshall will play at UCF (17-8, 7-4) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Knights lost at UTEP on Saturday, after being blown out at Memphis this past Wednesday.
The Herd beat the Knights, 75-71, earlier this season at the Cam Henderson Center on Feb. 2.
The Herd returns home next Saturday to face UAB in a 7 p.m. game. The Blazers beat Marshall in Birmingham, Ala., 75-61, on Feb. 9.