"The first minutes were the key," said Marshall coach Ron Jirsa. "We've played some pretty tough people lately, and I think tonight showed that playing those people paid off. Northern Illinois is rated high in our league."
A blistering first half (Marshall shot 53% from the field, including 7-of-11 from three-point range) enabled Marshall to jump out on the Huskies from the opening tip. While the snow fell outside, the 4,104 in the Henderson Center watched Ronny Dawn drain four three-pointers and A.W. Hamilton toss out seven assists in the first half, enabling The Herd to cruise to a 50-30 lead at intermission.
"We played harder than those guys, and that's how our lead got so big," said Marshall forward Marvin Black.
Marvin Black blew past Northern Illinois' Marcus Smallwood on Saturday night in The Herd's 85-76 MAC win.
Marshall committed only two -yes, two- turnovers in the first half, and kept Northern Illinois' hot shooter Marcus Smallwood wrapped up, limiting him to no points in 11 minutes of action in the first half.
"The MVP of the game was A.W. Hamilton," said NIU coach Rob Judson. "He is running the system well, and delivering the ball well."
In the second half, Marshall stretched the lead to as many as 26 (60-32) on Tre Whitted's layup with 17:05 remaining. A 14-6 run by NIU cut the Marshall lead to 18 at 64-46.
The trouble for Marshall began at the 5:01 mark of the second half. Enjoying a 77-56 lead, Marshall gave up a 15-2 run to the Huskies. Three-pointers by Anthony Maestranzi and Todd Peterson led the way for NIU.
Northern Illinois crept to within six points, at 79-73, before Marshall could stop the bleeding. A.W. Hamilton rejected a three-pointer by Maestranzi, pulled down the ball, and Maestranzi fouled him. Hamilton would go on to nail 4-of-4 free throws (along with Mark Patton hitting 4-of-5) down the stretch to shut the door on the charging Huskies. Peterson's three with :39 left set the final score at 85-76.
"That was a big defensive play," Jirsa summed up of Hamilton's block-and-stop.
"I just tried to get a hand in his face," said Hamilton of the block of Maestranzi. "He kept doing that same move, and I was able to stop it at an important time."
"We played better defensively, that's why we got back in the game," NIU coach Judson added. "Turnovers and defensive lapses will cause a lot of harm to your team."
Marshall finished the game shooting 47.5% (28-of-59), hitting 8-of-18 threes (42.1%). Northern Illinois turned a miserable first half (30% shooting) into a respectable 39.1% by the end of the game. Marshall committed just 8 turnovers, while NIU had 11.
Ronny Dawn led the way for Marshall with 16 points, followed by Marvin Black and Tre Whitted with 12 each. Ardo Armpalu added 10 points, while point guard A.W. Hamilton dished out 11 assists and committed no turnovers in 34 minutes, plus added 6 points in the win.
Marshall (3-3 overall, 1-0 MAC) moves on to play at UMass next Saturday evening.