"Coach talked a lot to us about staying focused, staying together," said MU guard A.W. Hamilton after the game. "We could bend, but not break."
Hamilton scored a career-high 24 points in the win, which gave Marshall its first victory in Mid-American Conference play in 2004-05, and snapped an eight-game road losing streak that dated back to February 29th of 2004 (at Ohio).
Marshall weathered an early-game storm by Ball State and senior Dennis Trammell, who scored the Cardinals first 12 points of the game all on three-point baskets. "Trammell was extremely hot," MU coach Ron Jirsa said. The Herd fell behind by ten points on four separate occasions in the first half, but fought back and closed the Cardinal lead to one point on a 9-0 run with 7:39 to go in the opening period to make the score 32-31. Ball State held on to the lead for the rest of the half and took a 44-41 lead into the break.
"We just made the plays we needed to make, and did the things we lacked in other games," said Marshall forward Mark Patton.
In the second half, A.W. Hamilton took over the game and propelled the Thundering Herd to its first MAC win. Trailing by three at 52-46 with 17:49 to go in the game, Hamilton knocked in three consecutive three-point baskets over a 56 second span to give Marshall a 55-54 lead.
"I was wide open, and when you're wide open in Division 1 play, you've got to hit the shots," Hamilton said of his barrage of threes.
The Herd would never trail again, thanks to Marshall's stellar free-throw shooting and Ball State's inability to convert free throws. Marshall was 12-for-12 from the free-throw line in the second half, and 16-for-17 for the game. Ball State could only muster an 11-for-21 effort at the free-throw line, in comparison.
The Herd lead grew to eight in the middle of the second half, but Ball State responded by cutting Marshall's advantage to three, 81-78, with 4:17 to go in the game. Senior guard Ronny Dawn then stepped up and knocked down a three-point bucket from the top of the key to push the Herd's lead to six, 84-78. Marshall closed out the game six-for-six at the free-throw line to keep Ball State at bay.
"Today we were fortunate to win," said Marshall head coach Ron Jirsa. "It's been a very trying time for our program, and we stuck together. I can see the relief on their [players] faces."
For the game, both teams shot extremely well from the floor —Ball State shot 53.6%, while the Herd was 51.6%. Marshall out-rebounded the Cardinals, 32-29, and committed only four turnovers (a season-low) in a crisply-played game.
"We've been in every game," Jirsa continued. "We have good people in the program. You don't build character by losing games, you find out the character you already had. I believe we have good character people."
Marshall was led by Hamilton's 24 points. Enoch Bunch tallied 14 points, and Mark Patton added his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cardinals were led by Trammell's career-high 38 points, and Peyton Stovall's 15 points.
Marshall returns home to the Henderson Center for a Wednesday night game against Eastern Michigan. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
In the end, Patton expressed astonishment at —what would otherwise be a small accomplishment in a 'normal' season— what amounts to finally getting the MAC loss monkey off the Herd's back.
"It's just amazing to see how we stuck together," Mark Patton said.
Herd Insider publisher Greg Perry contributed to this story