The end result could have been worse for Marshall, judging by the first eight minutes of the game. Out of sorts and not playing well at all, coach Royce Chadwick's Marshall team let Central Florida shoot out to a quick 13-5 lead. The stretch featured a silly technical on center Michele Hagan in the game's opening minutes.
"She let her emotions jump outside of her," commented Chadwick of Hagan's technical.
The answer, of course, was Marshall guard Sikeetha Shepard-Hall. The senior went on a first-half shooting spree of sorts, hitting 5-of-12 from the field for 15 points. MU's Crystal Champion drained a three with 4:22 left in the first half that ended a 22-14 Marshall run to tie the game at 27-27. Suddenly, all was well for Chadwick and company.
"Our team all year has been a ebb-and-flow team," said Chadwick. "When it's going good, man, we are going."
Shepard-Hall scored five points in the last 1:56 of the first half, and Marshall had suddenly reversed its earlier misfortune and turned it into a slim 34-33 lead at the half.
Sikeetha Shepard-Hall drove the lane against UCF on Friday night, scoring 15 points in the first half alone.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
And for most of the second half, Marshall would hold on to that lead over Central Florida. Michele Hagan, too, reversed her early misfortune. With starting center Modupe Ishola not having a good night, Hagan simply stepped in and took control in the paint. Eight of her 13 points were scored in the second half, and Chadwick noted their importance.
"She's settled down and doing things in the game that she's been doing in practice," Chadwick continued of Hagan. "She's doing a really good job now of keeping her emotions in check so she can play under control,"
Hagan's jumper with 5:46 left in the game gave Marshall their largest lead of seven points, 59-52, and all was well. Central Florida's Francine Houston had other plans. Houston answered Shepard-Hall's first half scoring binge with one of her own in the second half, hitting 6-of-11 shots for 16 points. Houston went on to finish with 19 points to lead UCF in scoring.
"Some missed defensive assignments, not communicating with each other," said Sikeetha Shepard-Hall. "It's March. Those little things just can't happen."
Houston scored 10 points in Central Florida's 14-4 run during the final five minutes of the game, including a three that gave UCF the lead for good at 62-61 with 2:10 left. Houston hit two free throws with :03 left to seal the final score at 66-63.
"We had a chance to really put a spread on them, but we just weren't getting stops, defensively," Chadwick summed up. "All the little things add up. A very disheartening game for us to play that way."
The loss puts Marshall at a precarious 13-13 overall record, 8-7 in C-USA. A win over Southern Miss on Sunday is needed to keep the Herd's hopes of a first round C-USA tournament bye a reality. UCF, meanwhile, bumped up to 7-19 overall and 5-10 in C-USA with the win.
Marshall hosts Southern Miss on Sunday in a 1:00pm contest, the Herd's final home game of the season before the Conference USA tournament.