"That is a Top 15 team," said Marshall assistant Bob McKinnon after the Blazers' win over the Herd, probably clinching a NCAA Tournament bid for head coach Mike Anderson, who received enought votes to be at 29th in both the AP and the ESPN/USA Today men's basketball polls last week before knocking off No. 3 Memphis on Thursday night. UAB has its fourth consecutive 20-win season under Anderson and should give the new C-USA two bids, along with the Memphis Tigers. Memphis should not drop too far from No. 3 in the nation, as No. 1 Duke lost Saturday night for the second time this week, to UNC, and No. 4 Villanova also took a tumble.
Marshall will now turn its attention to its first-ever Conference USA Basketball Tournament, presented by Aeropostale, beginning Wednesday in Memphis, Tennessee at the FedEx Forum. The Herd, who finished in front of SMU, Southern Miss and East Carolina in the standings, will face the No. 8 seed in the Green Wave of Tulane, who lost a chance to finish as the number five seed when they fell at Tulsa Saturday and finished in a three-way tie with the Golden Hurricane and the Rice Owls at 6-8. Tulsa got the No. 6 spot and Rice the No. 7 position, giving the Herd a second chance to play better against a Tulane team that saw MU score only 15 points in the second half at Fogelman Arena in a 61-36 loss back on February 4.
"That's the way we are looking at the game Wednesday," said head coach Ron Jirsa of Marshall after the game. "UAB is a great team, but now we turn our attention to Tulane in the tournament." Jirsa hopes his team will try to show the Green Wave that the 36 points in the game in New Orleans did not represent the way his team has played against C-USA. That point total was the least amount of points by a Marshall team since Cam Henderson's 1947-48 team scored 23 at San Diego State after winning the Helms Foundation's Los Angeles Invitational over Syracuse. Tulane finshed the year 11-16 overall, losing four of their final six games. Marshall has played some of its better basketball since that trip to the Big Easy, winning three of six up to tonight's game against the determined Blazers. The Herd won once and lost once in overtime in that stretch and averaged 71 points per game, versus the season average of 66 per game this season. Senior center Mark Patton has seven straight games with double digit scoring, including 13 points and seven rebounds versus UAB last night.
The Herd was led in scoring by junior Tre Whitted, who scored 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the three-point line and 3-of-4 at the free-throw line. True freshman Markel Humphrey, who is expected to be named to the C-USA All-Freshman team next week, tied Patton for the team lead with seven rebounds, while junior point guard Chris Ross continued his improved play in the second half of the season with seven points, five assists, four steals and two rebounds for the Herd. Ross had only two turnovers and helped Marshall to only 14 turnovers for the second game this year against the Blazers, who lead the nation by forcing 22 turnovers per game by their opponents.
UAB was led by its senior guards: Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson, who had seven points and 10 assists on the night; and Marvett McDonald, who had 17 points for the second consecutive game. The two have won back-to-back Conference USA Player of the Week awards, and McDonald has scored 95 points in his last four games. UAB has won six games in a row and 18 of its last 20 contests. The Blazers shot 51 percent for the game, 27-of-53, and held the Herd to just 33 percent, 19-58, and 22 percent from three (5-for-23). Marshall forced UAB into 13 turnovers and out-rebounded the Blazers 38-35, including a 17-to-11 edge on the offensive glass for the Herd.
Marshall will bus Sunday to Memphis, practicing Monday at Rhodes College and at FedEx Forum on Tuesday, plus extended study hall sessions supervised by a member of the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program, who coach Ron Jirsa brought along for the extended trip to Alabama and Tennessee. Wednesday, the Herd will take on Tulane at 7 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Central time in Memphis, and that will be game three of the opening day. The action starts at 1 p.m. EST when No. 7 Rice meets No. 10 SMU in a rematch of Saturday's 68-66 win by the Owls. At 3:30 p.m., No. 6-seeded Tulsa meets Southern Miss, who won 74-56 over East Carolina on Saturday to escape the league basement. ECU, the No. 12 seed, will face No. 5 UCF, as the Knights upset No. 3 seed UTEP at home on Saturday.
On Thursday, No. 2-seeded UAB will face the Rice-SMU winner at 1 p.m. EST. UTEP will face the winner of Tulsa-Southern Miss at 3:30 p.m. With a win over the Green Wave, Marshall will face the No. 1 seed in the tournament in its home building in Memphis, with a 7 p.m. tip. No. 4 seeded Houston, who led the Tigers in the first half at Memphis Saturday before losing late, will face the winner of UCF-ECU in the late game at 9:30 p.m. Friday's semi-final games can be seen on CSTV at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., while the championship game on Saturday is on CBS at 10:35 a.m. EST.