The Herd, who trailed by nine at 39-30 with 13:02 to play, buckled down on defense and shots by Travis Aikens and Joe Miles cut the lead to just four with 11:41 to go. The Herd would stay within striking distance the rest of the way. Markel Humphrey, who led the Herd in scoring with 14 points and was 4-of-6 shooting, 2-for-4 from three, banked a three-point goal in with just 16 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 51-51.
After two UTEP timeouts, the Miners rushed the ball into the paint, but MU center Mark Patton appeared to send the game to overtime when he blocked UTEP's Jason Williams shot with five seconds on the clock. Williams grabbed his rebound, however, and laid the ball back in with just two seconds to play. "I just had gotten the angle, and I didn't think they would get the block, but Patton came out of nowhere," said Williams after the game. "The ball came right back to me and I got the layup." Marshall did get one last look, a 30-foot attempt by a well-guarded Miles, but he did not draw iron and Marshall fell for the fourth time in five games at the Henderson Center, the third consecutive loss at home. MU is now 1-3 in Conference USA, 7-9 on the season. UTEP continues to lead C-USA at 4-0, along with 4-0 UAB and 3-0 Memphis, and improved to 11-5 overall.
"That was a pretty good game," said Marshall coach Ron Jirsa after the game. "I thought we had better poise, but we just didn't shoot well. They are a physical team, and we battled back and got a lucky bank shot, but we deserved it. But we just couldn't quite get back. We are close but not there. We are playing hard and we have to build on the things we are doing well." Jirsa was also happy with the effort of Patton, who had 10 points and six rebounds on the evening. "He responded well," said Jirsa. "He came back in the second half and remembered his shot fake. We need him to play an inspired game, and he played a much better game in the second half."
Marshall is the first team in three games to score over 50 points on the Miners, who lead C-USA in scoring defense at 61.1 points per game. The Herd played one of its better defensive games as well, holding UTEP to just 37 percent (10-for-27) in the first half and 42 percent for the game, four percentage points below the Miners season average. "We held them to 53 points, which is a good effort," said Jirsa. The coach was certainly not so happy with the Herd's offensive shooting on the night, as MU hit only 32 percent for the game (19-60) and 20.8 percent from three. "We were only 5-for-23 from 3-point range, so we need to make a few more of them. We have to look at the nuts and bolts of things. We did some good things tonight, like reading screens better, but we have to find little ways to get better. There are a couple little things that we need to capitalize on and build on. UTEP made things tough at the basket, which gave us some opportunities outside," said Jirsa. "It was hit from outside like our normal percentage, we'd be in good shape. We got some good looks. We don't want to be in the 20s (on threes), but it's a fine line."
"It was real physical, especially in the paint. You have to give them credit," said Patton after the game. "They came on the road, played hard and came out on top. We didn't play as well as we could have in the first half, but we came back in the second half and got back in it, but they came out on top." Patton and his Herd teammates are aware they played good enough to win again, yet are just 1-3 in conference play to show for all their effort. "It's a long season, and we've got to keep playing hard," said Patton. "Eventually we will come out on top and get one to go our way. You have to give them credit. They made a good play. I should have grabbed the ball when it was up on the backboard, but you have to give them credit for making a great play. He just stuck with it."
UTEP head coach Doc Sadler was very impressed with the Herd's effort throughout the night. "I think you have to give Ron's team full credit for playing a full 40 minutes. We would get them down six or seven points, and they would keep coming back," said Sadler. "There is no question Marshall runs their stuff as best as anyone we have played this year, and they do as good a job of interior defense as anyone we have played this year." Sadler was happy to leave Huntington, a 1,639 mile flight from El Paso, Texas, via Atlanta, with a win, but said the winning play was just great athletic ability out of senior Jason Williams. "It was just a player making a play," said Sadler. "It was nothing we drew up. The out of bounds play was called power, but Jason just made a heck of a play. Just getting the first shot was great, but for him to get the stickback was really great. It was one of the most physical games, but the officials allowed both teams to play hard. I think they knew both teams had been struggling at the free throw line, and they let the players decide the game."
Marshall also got 10 points from Miles, who just hit 3-of-14 shots on the night, while Aikens scored nine. UTEP was led by Williams and guard Edgar Moreno, both who had 12 points, and center John Tofi had 10 points while battling foul trouble. Williams led the Miners with eight rebounds as UTEP out-rebounded MU 38-31, but were minus seven in turnovers, 14-to-7 on the night. Marshall will battle No. 12 West Virginia, who won its 12th straight game at UCLA Saturday by 60-56, Wednesday night in Charleston, W.Va. in the annual Capital City Classic. MU won both the men's and women's game last year for the first time in Charleston on the same night. The women will tip at 5:30 p.m., the men at 8:00 p.m. UTEP is off until next Saturday, when they host SMU.
The Conference USA scoreboard for January 21 (overall record/C-USA record):
#4 Memphis (17-2/3-0) 85, Southern Miss (7-12/1-3) 68
SMU (9-7/2-2) 80, Rice (8-9/2-2) 69 (OT)
UCF (8-8/2-1) 45, Tulsa (7-10/2-2) 44
UAB (14-3/4-0) 82, Houston (10-6/1-3) 79
Tulane (5-11/1-3) 60, East Carolina (6-11/0-4) 52