Marshall Opens With 82-80 OT Win For Men

Marshall opened its 100th season of men's basketball on Saturday with a game that may have made of the Henderson Center "Hall of Famers" on the West Wall of the arena smile about where their program is. The Herd trailed UNC Greensboro by nine points with just about one and one-half minutes left in the game when MU rallied to send the game to overtime and win 82-80 to give Ron Jirsa an opening win.

Marshall was led by sophomore Markel Humphrey, as the freshman had a career-high 22 points in the game. His three free-throws were part of the Herd last minute rally, as was a three-point play by senior Travis Aikens that tied the game. Aikens recorded his second career double-double with 21 points, just one short of his career best, and 10 rebounds in the game. Marshall was also helped by some timely free-throws by both Aiken and Humphreys and the rest of the team, which shot only 61.4 percent from the line for the game (27-for-44). In the final 1:30 of the second half and during the overtime, however, the Herd hit on 15-of-18 free-throws in the crucial moments of a game it appeared would be a fourth-consecutive losing effort by a Jirsa-coached Marshall team in the season opener.

"We fought hard tonight and showed that we won't give up," Marshall head coach Ron Jirsa said. "We were able to get a hand on the ball and get some steals at the end and then were able to make some free throws. It was a team effort, but I want us to understand that we have to keep doing what we have been working on. I give credit to UNCG. Mike Dement does a great job and had them well prepared and they played well. I am glad to win the game." Marshall is now 251-79 all-time in the Henderson Center, since it opened in 1981, and 15-1 in openers at "The Big Butterfly." The Herd program, celebrating its 100th year since the first game in 1906, is now 73-22 all-time in opening games and 1,254-855 all-time, a nearly 60 percent winning percentage for all Marshall men's teams.


Mark Dorris battled with UNC-Greensboro's Dwayne Johnson for this loose ball during overtime of Marshall's 82-80 win on Saturday night.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

UNCG was led by Southern Conference Pre-season Player of the Year by most pre-season magazines, Kyle Hines, who scored a career-best 38 points and also had a double-double with 12 rebounds. The Spartans led the Herd 43-36 at the half, hitting on 15-of-17 free-throws in a contest that saw officials Kyle Neve, David Maracich and Greg Rennegarbe call 63 combined fouls on the two teams (30-MU and 33-UNCG). The Herd closed the game to 50-48 with 14:33 to play in the second half, only to see UNC Greensboro go on a 7-0 run to lead 57-48 just three minutes later.

The Herd would again comeback and cut the lead to two again, 60-58, with just under five minutes left in the game. Another 7-0 Spartan run, fueled by senior Tre Whitted fouling out of the contest, had UNCG leading 67-58 with 1:32 to play and many of the 3,073 who came out to cheer the Herd in the opener starting to get their jackets and head for the door. Attendance was down slightly for the opener due to the Marshall-East Carolina football game having a 1:00 p.m. kickoff in Greenville, N.C. (won by ECU 33-20) and being shown locally on WSAZ TV-3.

Sophomore Daryl Merthie, who sat out last season as a prop, entered the game and nailed his only three of the game to cut the lead to 67-61 with 1:22 to play. A steal by Humphrey led to point guard Chris Ross hitting one of two free-throws to cut the Spartan lead to five, but there were only 53 seconds to play. An offensive foul by UNCG's All-SC guard Ricky Hickman turned the ball over to Marshall, then Hickman fouled Humphrey on a 30-foot three-point attempt. The sophomore, who was named to the All-Conference USA Freshman Team last season, calmly knocked down all three free-throws and the lead was two, 67-65.

The Herd forced another UNCG turnover and Aikens drove strong to the bucket, making the layup and nailing the three-point play to give MU a 68-67 lead. Hickman would be fouled with seven seconds to play, but only made one of two shots at the line and after a Merthie miss at the buzzer, the game moved to overtime. The Herd was 2-1 in overtime games last season and started 2006-07 with one in the win column, thanks to timely free-throw shooting. Aikens hit seven of eight at the stripe, while Humphrey was three of four in the overtime period. Hines nailed two free-throws with 25 seconds to play to knot the game at 80-80, but Humphrey would sink his final two with 5.5 seconds left for the two point lead. A wild three by Hickman was well off the mark and the Herd was 1-0 to start the season for the first time since 2002.

Mark Dorris chipped in 14 points and eight rebounds in the game. Jean Francois Bro Grebe added eight points, five rebounds and three blocks in the first start of his career. Every player on the Marshall roster played by midway through the first half, and Jirsa freely substituted throughout. A number of players appeared in a Marshall uniform for the first time, including Merthie (seven points, two rebounds and one steal and assist); Chris Williams (two points, two rebounds and a steal); and freshmen Robbie Jackson (two points, one rebound) and Tyler Wilkerson (two points and one rebound). Taurean Marshall appeared in his first game since February of 2004, healing from two knee injuries, and played 19 minutes at point with Ross fouling out of the game. Marshall had two assists, a steal and a rebound, while Ross added eight points, five rebounds and two assists. The Herd will have to improve its free-throw shooting, as well as overall shooting. Marshall hit just 37 percent (25-67) from the field and only five of 25 from three (20 percent).

On defense, Marshall limited UNCG to just 34 percent shooting (22-64), 15 percent from three-point (3-20, 0-3 in OT and 1-8 in the second half), but the Spartans shot 81 percent from the stripe, hitting on 33-of-41 shots. Marshall out-rebounded Greenboro by 50-45 and forced 21 turnovers, resulting in 29 points. The Herd did turn the ball over 23 times, but UNCG only scored 22 points off those turnovers. MU scored 12 points on the fast break and was even with UNCG with 38 points each in the paint.

Marshall will host Robert Morris on Friday, November 17, at 7:00 p.m. in the Henderson Center. It will be Snowshoe Night, sponsored by the Snowshoe Mountain Resort in the Eastern mountains of West Virginia. The first 1,000 people in the building with get free lift tickets for Snowshoe and three fans will win a three-day ski package for Jan. 1-3 or Jan. 4-6 of 2007, including lodging and lift tickets. Call 1-800 THE HERD for tickets or go to www.Herdzone.com for information. Tickets are $19 and $9 each.


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