"We really wanted them to go out with a win," admitted Marshall coach Ron Jirsa of his three seniors. "I'm happy for our seniors. We worked together as a group to understand that it will take hard work and effort to win. When we look at the game defensively, we know our team wanted to rally around our seniors. It was good to honor our seniors with a win."
Marshall held the Golden Knights, Conference USA's leading three-point shooting team at 36 percent, to just 26.9 percent shooting from three-point range (7-of-26) on the evening, including hitting just 2-of-13 in the second half (15 percent). A 3-2 zone helped the Marshall defense to shut down UCF in the second half, enabling the Herd to go on a 21-7 run in the second half that all but put the game away, while the Knights missed their first eight three attempts of the second half.
"We couldn't get the stops," said UCF coach Kirk Speraw of Marshall's second half. "We didn't handle that as well as we needed to. "It was frustrating for us. When you aren't shooting the ball well, it's frustrating. And there was a combination of things that we didn't handle well. We didn't knock down some open looks and opportunities. And Marshall also got a lot of free throw attempts." Speraw thought the Herd came ready to play on Wednesday. "(Marshall) all stepped up tonight. They've got a lot of different people who can do it, and you never know who it will be. They were very active and played good defense."
Mark Patton drove past UCF center Marcus Johnson in the second half. Johnson fouled out in the second half battling Patton.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
That second half was in contrast to the up-and-down first half. Central Florida ran out to a quick 7-1 run to begin the game, but Marhshall answered back and tied the game at 9-9. Mark Patton scored eight points in the half, complimented by three-point baskets from Markel Humphrey, Travis Aikens and Tre Whitted. Marshall took a slim 30-27 lead at the half.
"They went on a run but we came back at them," said Patton. "We didn't lose control of our heads and played through it. We came out strong, they came back before the half and then we came right back after the half. It may have been some of the best basketball we have played all year."
Part of the early first half run by Marshall was a spark by McG, the director of the upcoming Marshall movie that begins shooting in Huntington next month. McG, born Joseph McGinty Nichol, led the crowd in a "We Are…Marshall" cheer early in the half. "I responded to just the sheer emotion," said McG of the Marshall football story. "This is a snapshot of how if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other...tomorrow it's going to coalesce, it's going to come together and you're going to be thankful you kept moving into the light."
After free-throws by UCF forward Josh Peppers tied the game at 32-32, Marshall's Chris Ross added a pair of free-throws (Ross hit a perfect 5-of-5 on the night, as well as 4-of-4 from the field, en route to career-tying high of 13 points in the game). A Joe Miles three extended the Marshall lead, and the Herd's run was under way. Some 8:14 later, Marshall had a 14-point lead at 53-39 with 8:01 left in the game.
"Marshall came out with more effort," said Peppers, who scored 18 points to lead the Knights.
Joe MIles dribbled past UCF guard Jermaine Taylor in the second half. Miles scored 15 points, all in the second half, in the win and hit 9-of-10 at the free-throw line.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
UCF closed the gap to 12 points on three occasions, but couldn't get over that barrier the remainder of the game.
Marshall shot 45.2 percent for the game (19-of-42), including hitting 6-of-17 from three (35.3 percent). The Herd hit 80.6 percent of their free-throws, draining 29-of-36 for the fifth-best percentage shooting night of the year at the stripe. The Herd held UCF to a 33.8 percent shooting night (24-of-71), more than 10 percent below their season average and 20 percent worst than the 53 percent shooting the Knights averaged in a two-game winning streak coming into Huntington.
"We were able to shoot the ball well in the second half, and that held them off," said Jirsa. "We've won three of our last four. We continue to try to understand our team and how each individual fits into the structure. We have had many new people to blend in this year and we're going to work up to the last game and continue to improve."
Director McG, of the upcoming movie on the Marshall football story, led the crowd in a "We Are…Marshall" cheer during a timeout in the first half of the UCF game.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Patton led Marshall in scoring with 16 points, and was joined in double figures by Miles with 15, Ross with 13 points and Humphrey with 11 points. Patton added five blocked shots in the game and Ross made three steals, while Ross, Humphrey and Patton each had six rebounds as the Herd edged the Knights 39-37 on the boards.
The ending was fitting for MU's three seniors, with Carter (two points, four rebounds), Zimmerman (made his first-ever start) and especially local player Patton, playing in their last game at Marshall. Patton, from Huntington suburb Barboursville, who lead nearby Cabell Midland to a state championship just four short years ago. "Happy to end it that way," Patton beamed.
Marshall improves to 12-14 overall, 5-8 in C-USA, heading into the last regular-season game at UAB on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST, heard on WRVC 930-AM, WDGG 93.7-FM and the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network. UCF falls to 12-14 overall, 6-7 in conference play, and was shutout of a chance for a top four finish in the C-USA tournament and the first-round tournament bye, and return home to face UTEP. Seedings for the tournament in Memphis , starting next Wednesday, will come after Saturday's games.