Rockets Squeak By Herd, 68-65

Marshall battled throughout the night against the Toledo Rockets in Savage Hall Wednesday night with "big gun" Marvin Black on the Herd bench from a bruised sternum suffered against Western Michigan. It was a game effort by MU but Marshall came up on the short end of the stick for the third consecutive game in Mid-American Conference play, losing a hard-fought 68-65 game in Toledo. The Herd got a great game from Ardo Armpalu and Eric Smith in their first starts as MU fell to 5-7, 2-3 in MAC.

Smith recorded his first double-double for Marshall, with 13 points and 11 rebounds, in a start for shooting guard Ronny Dawn. Armpalu started for the injured Black and responded with 12 points and six rebounds, the third time in four games he has finished in double figures scoring.

Toledo guard trio of senior Keith Triplett, sophomore Sammy Villegas and freshman Justin Ingram were averaging nearly 46 points per game but were held to 32 points in the game, led by Triplett scoring 18. But senior center A.J. Shellabarger had a monster night against MU, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his own double-double that was 11 points and seven rebounds above his season averages.

Losing Black may have hurt the Herd's inside defense against Shellabarger, but Smith said the team should have stepped up. "That's just an thing our team had to overcome, to fight through, and tonight we didn't get it done," said the Cleveland-area junior college transfer. Jirsa was impressed with the Herd's, and Smith's, effort, giving it a "B+," but thinks Smith and the team can bring more to each contest.

"I hope he can continue to play with intensity," said Jirsa of Smith. "When he plays with intensity, he's a very different player." Smith finished 5-of-15 shooting, 1-of-5 from three, and had three assists and three steals to go with four turnovers in a season-high 29 minutes. "I felt (the team) raised its intensity level in practice (Tuesday in Toledo)and I thought we had a much, much better showing," said Jirsa. "It's a good 85 percent of it."

Marshall outrebounded the Rockets 43-38 and while committing 17 turnovers (12 in the first half), MU only turned the ball over once in the last 13 minutes of the game when the Herd keep trying to get the lead. Marshall cut the lead to four points twice in the six-to-four minutes to play area, but allowed the Rockets to grab three offensive rebounds off missed free throws. The Rockets had lots of chances to practice their offensive rebounding off misses, too, as they hit only 12-of-27 free throws (44 percent) and missed all but three of 11 attempts in the last 1:25 of the game as Marshall cut a nine-point Toledo lead to three with 0:00.4 to play on two Tre' Whitted (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, his best shooting night in five games) and one Enoch Bunch three-point goals.

"What do you think we are going to work on (Thursday)," asked a frustrated Stan Joplin of Toledo when questioned about the free throws. "The way we finished was really bad." Toledo improved to 10-3, 4-1 and tied for the second-best record overall with Miami and Kent State. The Rockets trail Western Michigan, the only undefeated team in MAC play, by one-half game in the West Division.

Marshall, who arrived back in Huntington at 3:00 a.m. Thursday morning by bus from Toledo, will have an off-day on Thursday before returning to practice on Friday. The Herd will be home for three of the next four games, starting with Buffalo on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in the Henderson Center. The annual game with West Virginia University for the women (5:30 p.m. tip) and men (8:00 p.m.) at the Charleston Civic Center will be Wednesday, January 21. Tickets for all contests are available by calling 304-696-4373 or 1-800-943-4373 or stopping by the Henderson Center ticket office 9-5, Monday through Friday and one hour before the UB game Saturday.

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