By Woody Woodrum
Herd Insider Senior Editor
January 14, 2012
HUNTINGTON – Last year it was all about the return of "D.J.", former Herd coach Donnie Jones, and his first visit to Marshall University as the head coach of the Thundering Herd’s arch-rival from Conference USA, UCF.
Jones left MU for the Knights after leading the Herd to a 24-win season in his third year in charge of a team he worked for as an assistant, earning a Master's at MU, and grew up watching from his home in nearby Pt. Pleasant, W.Va.
This year, it was much bigger.
Bigger than coaches coming back;
Bigger than players wanting revenge;
Even bigger than some MU fans waiting to welcome back someone most Herd supporters put in the company of Benedict Arnold when it comes to the former Marshall.
This year, it was about first place in C-USA and when it was over, Marshall University basketball was 4-0 in Conference USA, for the first time since Jones led the Herd to a similar start in 2009-10, but all alone in first place for the first time ever after four contests, half a game ahead of Memphis, who is 3-0 after beating Houston, 89-55.
In fact, Memphis will be at UCF this Wednesday.
UCF fell to Marshall, 65-64, when the Knights Marcus Jordan missed a lay-up, much of his problem on sinking the winning shot being good defense by Marshall’s Shaquille Johnson on the son of legendary NBA star, Michael Jordan.
The Knights 260-pound center, Josh Crittle, pulled the rebound on the miss, but as he brought the ball to his waist, MU point guard Damier Pitts slapped the ball to Johnson and the two Herd seniors, teammates and an electric crowd of 8,379 mostly Marshall Kelly Green-clad fans celebrated the win and first place for the Herd.
Herd players Dago Pena (#10), DeAndre Kane (#24) and Nigel Spikes (#11) celebrate Marshall win over UCF, 65-64, at the Cam Henderson Center on Saturday night. Marshall improves to 4-0 in Conference USA, and stands alone in first place in the league, while seeing its overall record improve to 13-4. All Herd Insider photos by Greg Perry
Johnson and Pitts, along with fellow senior Dago Pena, junior Nigel Spikes and sophomore DeAndre Kane were the players recruited to Marshall by Jones, who beat their former mentor for the second time in three games between UCF and Marshall.
Kane scored 16 points to lead all scorers in the contest, including the game-winning free throws to lead the Marshall to the win in front of the best crowd of the season at the Cam Henderson Center, just 650-fans short of a sellout but as noisy a crowd as seen since last year’s game.
Much of the crowd noise was directed at UCF senior point guard A.J. Rompza, who took Twitter on a tour of his hotel in Huntington, making uncomplimentary remarks about the Pullman Plaza Hotel in particular and the Tri-State area in general.
Rompza, back for his fifth game after serving a 12-game suspension for his involvement with a “runner” whose involvement with the Knights may yet put the UCF program on probation with the NCAA as a repeat offender, was booed throughout the night, every time he touched the ball.
The pesky guard, who seems to draw the ire of every set of fans in the league, was even warned by the officials when he appeared to draw a foul with an early flop and did not attempt any further plays that he is so well known for, finishing the evening with eight points and four assists.
Marshall improved to 13-4 overall and 4-0 in Conference USA, while UCF fell to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in C-USA.
It was a physical game, one which saw offsetting technical fouls called on Marshall’s Johnson and the Knights’ Tristan Spurlock and forty personal fouls, including a flagrant foul on UCF forward Isaiah Sykes, who elbowed Marshall second-year head coach Tom Herrion on his way back up court following a Spurlock lay-up with about four minutes left in the first half.
Marshall head coach Tom Herrion salutes the crowd at Marshall's 65-64 win over UCF, giving Herrion's team a 4-0 mark and first place in C-USA. Herrion had nothing but praise for the biggest crowd of the season, 8,379 very noisy Herd fans (only about 650 short of a complete sellout).
Herrion only wanted to talk about the win, and the boost his team received from the fans in a "Kelly Green-Out" that included giveaways of Kelly shirts by the WV Lottery and Kelly headbands from Marshall Athletics.
“Our fans were phenomenal,” said Herrion. “You can hear it, you can feel it. You can feel the buzz and the energy.”
It was a game that went back and forth throughout the night, with UCF never leading by more than two and Marshall’s biggest lead of eight point lasting only about 40 seconds before the Knights’ Kasey Wilson banked in a three to make the halftime score 37-32 Marshall.
The game featured 13 lead changes, including nine in the first 13 minutes and three in the final two minutes.
“If you’re going to be a good team, you win different ways,” Herrion said.
“We won differently tonight. We won with toughness and resilience. There was total belief that we were going to win the game.”
Part of the toughness was on defense. Marshall not only denied Jordan the final shot of the game, the Herd held him to a 3-of-17 shooting night, including 0-for-5 from three.
Jordan was UCF’s leading scorer coming into the game, averaging 16.9 points per game, but he finished with just nine points and two rebounds on the night.
Marshall once again won the rebounding game, as the Herd has in all but one game this season (and that was a tie for rebounds 39-39 against Jacksonville State in game two of the season).
The Herd pulled 44 rebounds to just 38 for the Knights, and Marshall out-rebounded UCF on the offensive glass 16-to-10.
Junior Dennis Tinnon, who came into the game ninth in the nation in rebounding, pulled ten boards despite just playing 23 minutes with foul trouble.
Kane and Spikes each had seven boards, while freshman Jamier Hanner and Johnson each had five rebounds.
Sophomore center Yous Mbao had three rebounds, two blocks and a steal in six first half minutes and gave the Herd a huge lift in the first half, along with Hanner (who scored four points and had an assist) in the first half when Tinnon, Spikes and Robert Goff were on the bench with two fouls each.
The Herd led 60-53 with 4:51 to play before the Knights started chipping away at the lead, and Marshall was not making free throws.
The Thundering Herd was just 12-for-25 from the free throw line, only 6-of-12 in the second half, but made them when it counted.
Goff came into the game shooting only 49 percent from the line, but hit 4-of-5 in the game, scoring six points and a block.
Goff hit one-of-two with under three minutes relating to give MU a four-point lead, 61-57.
The lead would change four times over the last 2:05 of the game, with Crittle hitting a lay-up with 1:30 to go to put UCF up, 62-61, the Knights’ first lead since the 7:41 mark in the first half.
Tinnon answered with basket off an offensive rebound on a Kane miss with 1:15 to go, one of five offensive boards on the night for the junior.
He put MU back up one, 63-62.
Back came the Knights, with Keith Clanton sticking back a Jordan miss to give UCF a 64-63 lead with :55 on the clock.
Jordan then missed the front end of a one-plus-one attempt with 29.8 seconds left and Tinnon grabbed his tenth rebound.
Out of Herrion’s final time out of the game, and trailing by one point with 14 seconds to play, Kane was fouled by Clanton - his fifth.
Kane, who up to that point was just 3-of-6 at the line, hit the first free throw to tie the game, 64-64 - the seventh tie of the evening - and hit the second for the one-point lead, 65-64.
“No pressure,” Kane assured the media after the game. “Really, no pressure at all.”
Jordan drove to the basket with about five-seconds left, but Johnson’s strong defense kept the UCF guard away from the basket.
“That’s the shot we wanted,” said Jones. “He just didn’t get the ball to go in the hoop.”
The off-balanced shot was rebounded under the hoop by Crittle, but the 6-foot-9, 260-pound center brought the ball down around his waist, and Pitts reached in to knock the ball to Johnson.
Shaquille Johnson not only played great defense all evening, holding Marcus Jordan (right) to a 3-of-17 shooting night (and 0-of-5 from three), but Johnson also had eight points on 2-of-4 from three, along with a steal to seal the win on a loose ball caused by fellow senior and teammate Damier Pitts after he forced a final miss from Jordan.
Johnson put together a complete game with eight points, five rebounds and four assists.
Pitts’ four-year backcourt mate threw the steal up court as the horn sounded for Marshall’s fifth win in six games with UCF, and sixth win all-time against the Knights in the Henderson Center in seven tries.
Marshall leads the all-time series, 8-to-5.
“We made it a compelling game to keep everyone in their seats,” Herrion said, with the hint of a smile. The Herd had its third-straight close C-USA win, winning by two on the road last week at Rice and at UAB on Wednesday.
“It was a great night for Marshall basketball. It was a great night for college basketball.”
The Herd shot 39.7 percent from the field and 35 percent (7-20) from three-point range.
The Knights shot 42.1 percent from the field and was 5-for-20 from three-point range for 25 percent.
Marshall received great bench support led by Spikes, with six points and seven rebounds.
Pena made two threes in the second half, scoring eight points.
All told, the Marshall bench would score 22 points, five more than UCF got from its bench.
Clanton led the Knights with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Spurlock added 12 points off the bench on a 5-of-9 shooting night, including 2-for-5 from three, and had five rebounds.
Sykes ended with ten points and eight rebounds.
DeAndre Kane led all scorers with 16 points in the Marshall 65-64 win over UCF, including two points here over the Knights' P.J. Gaynor. Kane and the Herd will meet in-state rival West Virginia on Wednesday in the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic in the Charleston (W.Va.) Civic Center at 7:30 p.m. The women's teams will meet on Tuesday night in the Civic Center at 7 p.m., the first time the Capital Classic has not been a doubleheader.
The Thundering Herd will play its final non-conference game of the season on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Charleston (W.Va.) Civic Center.
It is the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic with the West Virginia Mountaineers, and the game has been sold out for about two weeks.
A crowd of 12,500-plus will catch the annual in-state rivalry with both teams rolling.
Marshall is 13-4, having won four in a row and eight of its last ten games, and is undefeated and in first place in Conference USA with four straight wins.
WVU beat Rutgers in Big East Conference play on Saturday, 84-60, at the Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va. Kevin Jones had a double-double with 24 points and 14 rebounds, while Darryl “Truck” Bryant added 18 points.
The Mountaineers are 13-5 overall, 2-3 in the Big East, and were receiving votes in last week’s Top 25 polls.
Marshall won last year’s match-up, 75-71, behind 25 points from Damier Pitts.
It was Tom Herrion’s first game as a head coach against WVU head coach Bob Huggins, although Herrion faced WVU many times as an assistant coach at Pitt (2007-10) and Providence (1994-98).
WVU leads the all-time series, 28-11, in a series where three games were played in Morgantown from 1928-31, then resumed in 1978.
The series has been played in the Civic Center since 1992, and in those 20 meetings (and two other games in Charleston, in 1980 and 1989) Marshall has won five times, but three times in the last seven games - games that have averaged being won or loss by seven points per contest - including a two-point and two four-point games in that time.
Marshall will return to C-USA action on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Southern Miss, now 3-1 in league play after a 59-55 win over UAB in Hattiesburg on Saturday and one-game back of the Herd and tied with UCF behind the 3-0 Tigers of Memphis.
Marshall is 2-8 in games following the WVU game, including losing the last seven in a row after the annual battle with the in-state rival.