And an otherwise lackluster performance for Marshall turned into a stunning turnaround in the game's final 3:17. With Rice's Morris Almond torching The Herd to the tune of 36 points and 10 rebounds, Marshall came back from a 9-point deficit to tie the game and force the Owls into overtime. The 15-6 run by The Herd ended with three remarkable possessions.
Morris came into the game as Conference USA's scoring leader, averaging 20.5 points per game.
"He was the guy leading the charge," said Rice coach Willis Wilson afterwards.
Tre Whitted scored two of his seven points over Rice guard Morris Almond.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall trailed for most of the game, leading only at the very beginning (7-4 with 14:53 left in the first half) and in overtime (71-69). The slump inbetween didn't do much for Marshall coach Ron Jirsa.
"We're going to have to put more into it," Jirsa said of the otherwise forgettable 34 or so minutes. "No matter who is doing the scoring, we're going to have to put more into it. ."
MU's Tre Whitted drained a 27-foot three to get within three, 65-62. Mark Patton then picked off the inbounds pass and took the ball straight to the basket for the easy lay-in to make the score 65-64. Patton would tie the score at 66 on another basket with just :14 left, but somebody forgot to guard the Owls' Morris Almond, who had torched The Herd all night long. Almond hit the basket-and-one, leaving Marshall down by three with just :04 left.
A smart foul on MU guard Chris Ross by Rice's Lorenzo Williams found Ross in the unusual position of having to intentionally miss the second free throw after making the first. Ross did just that, and unlikely hero LaVar Carter got the put-back to tie the game at 69 and send it to overtime. Carter's only bucket of the night turned out to be the most important one for Marshall, to that point.
Mark Dorris scored two of his 9 points on this reverse layup past Rice's Matt Hagen in the first half.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"I'm disappointed we didn't come up with the rebound," Rice coach Willis Wilson added of Carter's game-tying put-back.
In overtime, Marshall could not continue the intensity that led to the dramatic comeback and eventual overtime. Rice's Lorenzo Williams proved to be the go-to guy in OT, scoring 7 of the Owls' final 9 points to earn the win. Williams joined Almond as the only two Rice players in double figures, but the duo combined for 51 points.
"I thought in overtime we shrunk back down to where we started, and that's disappointing," MU coach Jirsa continued. "I don't understand why we couldn't play harder in the overtime."
The overtime game was the third for both teams this season. The last time Marshall played in three OT games was the 1987-88 season. The game was also Marshall's highest point output in a single game (75) as a member of Conference USA.
"We've been in this situation so many times this year," summed up Rice coach Willis Wilson. "Down the stretch in overtime, I thought we did a really good job of playing to win."
Marshall shot 37.2% (29-of-78) from the field, including a disastrous 7-of-34 (20.6%) from three. Markel Humphrey drained four threes en route to a 14 point night, one of four MU players in double figures. Patton led the bunch with 26, followed by Tre Whitted (11), Humphrey (14) and Travis Aikens with 10 points. Guard Chris Ross dished out 11 assists, a career high, and made five steals, another career best.
"We didn't come out with energy, and if you don't come out with energy you're not going to be able to do the things needed to win," Marshall's Mark Patton explained. "We were playing soft the whole game."
Marshall (9-11, 2-5 C-USA) now prepares for the biggest conference game of the season when the #3-ranked Memphis Tigers come to Huntington this Saturday at 4pm. Rice (9-11, 3-4 C-USA) stays on the road for a matchup at Tulsa this Saturday.