"We just had a good team effort tonight," said Marshall coach Royce Chadwick. "That's the number one seed, we're in the top five. It should be that kind of game."
If you had only watched the first eight minutes of the game, chances are the final outcome would have been the farthest thing from happening. Rice went on a 18-6 run in the first half, shooting out to a commanding 24-8 lead with 11:23 remaining. C-USA preseason player of the year Lauren Neaves scored six points and grabbed 7 rebounds during that run.
"They came out on fire, with 24 points at the ten minute mark," added Chadwick of Rice. "We weathered the storm of the first ten minutes."
Sikeetha Shepard-Hall put up two of her 18 points over Rice's Krystal Frazier (23) in the second half of Marshall's 75-64 win on Friday night.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
But then a strange thing happened: over an almost four-minute span, neither team scored a point. Marshall then embarked on a 20-6 run to close out the half, with Sikeetha Shepard-Hall scoring 8 and Mary Pat Statler hitting for 6 points, completely turning the tables on the Owls.
The icing on the cake soon followed, when Modupe Ishola's layup at the buzzer gave Marshall the somewhat unbelievable 32-30 halftime lead.
"I don't think anybody thought it was the end of the world," said Marshall guard Mary Pat Statler of the 16-point deficit The Herd faced early in the game. "Our defense really stepped up."
"When we get on a roll, we've got enough leadership to push them through the ups and downs," added Chadwick.
The second half turned into a see-saw affair, with the lead changing eight times and the score being tied ten times. Down 56-55 with 6:03 remaining, Marshall guard Bridget Chacon hit her first basket of the game, and it turned out to be the most important one for The Herd. Chacon nailed a short jumper to give Marshall the lead for good at 57-56. Guard Sikeetha Shepard-Hall would leave the game with cramps with 7:00 left, and despite the early exit, still led Marshall in scoring with 18 points and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line.
"A great contribution from our bench made a difference in the game," Chadwick continued. " The last eight minutes, we played really good."
Mary Pat Statler and Reshundra Smiley both took over where Shepard-Hall left off for Marshall. The duo combined for 24 points (Statler with 16, Smiley with 8) in the game, and each hit a three in the final five minutes of play. Marshall outscored the Owls by a 17-8 margin in the final that span, with eight of those points coming at the free throw line.
KaShawna Curry applied pressure to Rice guard Kadie Riverin in the first half.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
In fact, Marshall essentially sealed and won the game at that same free throw line, hitting a stellar 80.6% (29-of-36), compared to Rice's 15-of-25 (60.0%) performance. The Herd dominated on the glass, grabbing 50 rebounds (19 offensive) to the Owls' 29.
"When your confidence is up, you're a little bit better rebounder, little bit better free throw shooter. And, our confidence is high right now," said Chadwick.
In the game's final minutes, each team had at least two players on the floor with four fouls. That was testament to the brutal conditions in the paint on both sides of the ball. Marshall's Ishola would eventually foul out, along with Rice's Kadie Riverin and Samantha Stovall.
"We had a few more post players than they did, off the bench, that were able to take it at 'em," Chadwick added. He was referring to Crystal Champion (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Michele Hagan (4 points, 7 rebounds).
Marshall's Crystal Champion fought for a loose ball with Rice's Amber Cunningham in the second half.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall was led in scoring by Shepard-Hall's 18 points, with Mary Pat Statler (16 points) and Crystal Champion (12 points) also scoring in double figures. Champion also grabbed 13 rebounds. Rice was led by Krystal Frazier's 21 points (including four threes), with preseason C-USA player of the year Lauren Neaves close behind with 20 points.
Marshall is now in sole possession of the C-USA lead with a perfect 4-0 (9-5 overall) record. Rice drops to 2-1 in the conference and 6-8 overall with the loss. Once the dust had settled at the Henderson Center, MU guard Mary Pat Statler noted that the win, while big, was just one more that couldn't go to her team's head.
"I don't think any of us are going to get caught up in the fact we're 4-0, either," Statler summed up. "We have lost by 30 points a couple times this year. Don't think any of us are going to get the big head any time soon."
However, Statler's diagnosis for the team's progression was good. "We're getting better," Statler said.
Marshall next plays in one week, next Friday at UCF in Orlando, Florida.