It was also the first time since 1957 that Marshall had opened the season in Huntington with a team that had appeared in the NCAA Tournament. That year it was the same Morehead State team that had beaten Marshall's MAC championship team in the old "play-in" game for the tournament.
In this Herd opener, starting the 2003-04 season under Jirsa who was just hired this summer, Marshall ran into a team in the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks that knew how to win and play defense. UNCW had advanced to the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four years and the NIT the other year. They have won three Colonial Athletic Association titles in that time as well. For a hurting Herd, with Marvin Black nursing a sore hamstring and Ronnie Dawn recovering from a week-long bout with the flu, the Seahawks had just enough offense, a great defense and the experience in winning tough games like tonight's contest.
A.W. Hamilton looked for room in the lane against UNC-Wilmington in Marshall's season-opening loss.
"They played really good defense, but we did not make many shots," said Jirsa. "If we make a few more shots and do not turn the ball over a couple of more times, it is a totally different game. Marvin did not practice all week and he really looked like he was not able to play a physical game. They did a great job of guarding us in the post."
Besides Black only playing 17 minutes, Dawn was only able to play 10 minutes coming off a week of the flu. With two of the leading returning scorers not able to play at a high level, guards A.W. Hamilton (14 points) and Enoch Bunch (11) tried to take up the slack on the offensive end. Marshall never got the fast break going and scored zero points off the break in the game. The Herd turned the ball over 18 times, which led to 17 points for the Seahawks. "We had only 18 turnovers but it seemed like 28," said Jirsa.
Leading UNCW was Butler County Community College transfer Ed Spencer, who had 15 points in the game. Sophomore forward Beckham David Wyrick had 12 points, nine of which came in the second half.
"I'm dissapointed in the outcome of the first game," said Jirsa. "Now we have got a week until we play (Morehead State). This is going to be an important week for us to continue to work on doing the things we can do within our system and do them better."
One thing the Herd did better was rebound. Last season, Marshall was minus-1.6 rebounds per game but grabbed 32 boards tonight to UNCW's 29. The seven offensive rebounds by MU led to seven second-chance points for the Herd.
The next contest for Marshall is the 90th meeting with the Morehead State University Eagles next Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in the Henderson Center. Morehead lost its opener Friday night as well, 95-82 at George Mason. The MSU game will be the first of four games for Marshall in eight days, including a December 1, 8:00 p.m., meeting with Kentucky at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a road trip to Radford University for a game on December 4 at 7:00 p.m. The tip to the Old Dominion will lead to a Herd flight out of Virginia on December 5 to Portland, Oregon. Marshall will play in the Pape Jam at the Portland Trail Blazer's Rose Arena against the Ducks of Oregon on December 6, 9:00 p.m. EST.
Marshall will then have a week to take finals before starting the MAC season at home against Northern Illinois on December 13.