"You have to give credit to UNCW. They beat us at home last year in our opener and again here in our opener," Marshall coach Ron Jirsa summed up. "They played hard, that's their style."
The Seahawks completed a sweep of the Thundering Herd in the two-year series with the Huntington, W.Va., club after claiming a nine-point win last year. UNCW heads to North Texas Tuesday for its next outing and Marshall makes its home debut Tuesday against East Tennessee State at the Cam Henderson Center.
Freshman guard Joe Miles of Marshall led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-6 behind the arc. Senior forward David Anderson added 14 points and seven boards and junior forward Mark Patton had a game-high 13 caroms.
"We didn't do a good job getting the easy baskets," said UNCW coach Brad Brownell. "I think we really came out ready to play. It was a tough team effort with a lot of guys stepping up."
Junior guard John Goldsberry paced the Seahawks with 11 points and four assists, while senior guard Ed Spencer added 10 points and five assists.
After building a nine-point cushion at halftime, the Seahawks pushed the lead to as many as 11 points before having to rally from behind in the final minute.
"Winning the close games wasn't something we did last year," said UNCW center Aaron Coombs. "Being able to get this first win the way we wanted to was good. It shows the improvements our team has made from last year."
A.W. Hamilton's steal and layup gave the Herd a 57-54 edge with 50 seconds remaining, but Goldsberry connected on a pair of free throws with 39 seconds left to help the Seahawks pull within 57-56. After senior center Aaron Coombs deflected a pass to give UNCW possession, Goldsberry converted another pair of free throws for a 58-57 lead.
The Herd's Tre Whitted failed to draw iron from the right corner with three seconds showing, but Marshall was given the ball and Whitted's inbounds pass was knocked away by Kuljanin to give the Seahawks a win in their first season opener at home in 10 years.
After Marshall jumped out to a 19-16 lead midway through the first half, UNCW went on a 17-2 run to take control. Goldsberry hit the first of two free throws to give the Seahawks a 32-21 advantage and UNCW built a 34-25 lead at the break.
The Herd went to a zone in the second half and bothered the Seahawks, who shot just 27.3 percent after intermission. Marshall wound up shooting 46.8 percent from the field and UNCW finished at 35.8 percent.
"Anytime you play a good team like we did tonight it's going to help down the road," said UNCW guard John Goldsberry. "It threw us a little bit when they switched to zone, but we were able to get it done on the defensive end."