"This feels great," said Patton. "We've been working hard and we just have to keep up the work."
Marshall, playing in its first non-conference, same-season, home-and-home since 1984-85 when the Herd took on New Orleans, defeated the Purple Aces in the Henderson Center eight days after UE beat Marshall, 91-81, at Roberts Stadium in Evansville. And like the first contest, it proved to be a competitive, see-saw affair, with the team making defensive stops late in the game coming away with the victory.
Joe Miles split two Evansville defenders in the first half of Marshall's 70-67 season-opening win against the Purple Aces at the Henderson Center on Saturday night.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Herd trailed for all of the first half, and did not take its first lead until the 16:51 mark in the second half when junior guard Chris Ross made a lay-up to put Marshall ahead, 40-39. From that moment on, the game featured four ties and five lead changes.
During that stretch, MU built an eight-point advantage, 55-47, with 10:44 to go in the game, but Evansville immediately responded, scoring eight consecutive points in 1:46 to tie the game at 55. Marshall regained the lead, and held it until an Eric Ottens' lay-up put the Purple Aces up 65-64 with 3:40 to play. Patton missed a lay-up on the other end on Marshall's next possession, but Ross came up with a steal and a fast-break bucket to put MU back ahead, 66-65. The Purple Aces once again counterpunched, this time on a Matt Webster lay-up to put Evansville ahead 67-66 with 2:45 to play. A minute later after an Aikens steal, Patton hit a jumper to put the Herd up for good, 68-67.
The story behind Marshall hanging on? Defensive stops and offensive rebounds. UE's Bradley Strickland missed a jumper in the lane with 1:28 to go in the contest, and on Marshall's next possession, the Herd held on to the ball for 1:13 because of two offensive rebounds by Patton, one of which led to a put back that put MU ahead, 70-67. On the ensuing Evansville possession, junior guard Tre Whitted came away with a steal to seal the Herd's first victory of the 2005-06 campaign.
Mark Patton moved around Evansville's Matt Webster. Patton scored 19 points in The Herd's season-opening win against the Purple Aces on Saturday night.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"We have made a step forward each game, and we made a step forward this game," said Marshall head coach Ron Jirsa. "We made stops on defense, and that is the key.
"We got one win with this one, now we just need to keep making strides in this direction."
"It came down to them having second and third opportunities and us turning the ball over," said Evansville head coach Steve Merfeld. "We have to give them credit."
For the game, Evansville shot 49.1% from the floor, while the Thundering Herd made 42.6% of its shots. Marshall was more effective in the second half, converting on 51.5% of its opportunities. The statistic of the night, however, was Marshall's dominance on the glass; the Herd had 39 rebounds, 18 offensive, compared to 24 for Evansville. MU also got 11 steals, including two apiece from Aikens, Patton, Ross, Miles, and Mark Dorris.
The Herd returns to action Monday night against former Southern Conference rival East Tennessee State in Johnson City, Tenn. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.