"This was an important game for us," said head coach Ron Jirsa. "February is a big month for us. We have to play well, and we are in the right direction. We are at a point now where we can take advantage since we have a base and can move forward. We are in the middle of the pack in the league and now we head out on the road and we need those too. We are not out of it and we have got to have a big month."
After scoring only one point against East Carolina in the Herd's win on Wednesday, Travis Aikens responded with 16 points to lead Marshall (9-13/4-4 C-USA) in points, as well as nine rebounds to lead MU on the glass. Marshall out-rebounded UAB by 41-38 on the night and blocked eight shots in the game, with Jean Francois Bro Grebe, who had a career-high six blocks in the game and ten in the last two contests to give him 49 on the season. Aikens and Bro Grebe each blocked a shot in the final 33 seconds of the game to hold off the Blazers, who trimmed the Herd lead to four with :42.6 to play.
"Travis was big for us tonight," said MU head coach Ron Jirsa after the game. "The defense was good again, the eight blocks were big and we worked hard on shooting the three this week in practice. When Chris Ross is 2-for-2 and Travis hits two, that's just gravy." Ross hit one of the big threes of the game when he nailed a 27-foot three with one second left in the first half to give Marshall a 30-24 halftime lead. Ross also had six assists, six rebounds - five in the first half - a block, a steal and only one turnover in 33 minutes of play. That the Herd had the lead at half was amazing, as UAB shot out to a 8-0 lead in the first three-plus minutes of the contest as Marshall hit 0-for-5 to start the game. Aikens got the Herd going with its first field goal with 16:30 to play and Marshall shot 12-of-22 the rest of the first half, including 4-of-11 from three after starting 0-for-4 behind the arc.
Jean Francois Bro Grebe put up a shot over UAB's Frank Holmes in the second half of Marshall's 61-54 win Saturday night.. photos by Greg Perry/HI staff
Aikens also had what has to be the highlight dunk of the season when he stole the ball with about 3:30 to play and flew from just above the foul line to jam the ball in with both hands, giving Marshall its biggest lead of the first half, at 26-18, and energizing the crowd of 4,755, the best of the season for the Herd. Marshall also got 12 points from Mark Dorris, who hit two threes on the night, and 11 points from Markel Humphrey, all coming in the second half. Humphrey also added eight rebounds and two assists, hitting 6-of-7 at the free throw line. Marshall made 6-of-9 free throws in the final minute of the half to ice the game and made 12-of-20 overall. The Herd has won four of its last five C-USA games after starting the season 0-3 in league games at No. 12 Memphis, at UTEP - the second place team in the league - and at home against UCF.
"I thought we played great tonight," said Humphrey. "We were better on defense, boxed out and played aggressive. Everyone played well tonight and we played well together as a team." His teammate, Dorris, agreed with Humphrey's assesment. "Coach always tells us about having poise," said Dorris when asked about UAB's early 8-0 run. "We didn't expect to come out 8-0 down, but we didn't panic and make ourselves 12-0 or 14-0 down. We stayed poised, ran through our plays and turned things around."
It was the second-consecutive game Marshall had held an opponent under 60 points, with East Carolina losing on Wednesday 66-52. When the Herd holds an opponent under 60 points, they are 5-0 this season and 10-1 over the last two seasons. UTEP is the lone loss, beating MU 53-51 last season, after Marshall held WVU under 60 in the game previous to the annual meeting with the Mountaineers. The Herd also has beaten Tulsa (65-53), who they play in Oklahoma this coming Wednesday at 8 p.m., Ohio (70-60) and Virginia Tech (59-58).
UAB fell to 11-11, 3-5 in C-USA play under first-year head coach Mike Davis. The Blazers were led on the night by Wen Mukubu and Mike Davis, Jr. , the coach's son, who each scored 11 points. Lawrence Kinnard had nine points and nine rebounds for UAB. The Blazers are now 0-6 on the season when they trail at the half and fall to 5-9 away from Birmingham, Alabama. They return home for a three-game home stand, with only eight games of 22 this season in Bartow Arena this season but going 6-2 at home.
With the Herd at 4-4 in Conference USA play, it marks the first time since 2003-04, in Jirsa's first season as the Herd's head coach, that Marshall has been at .500 midway through the conference season. Marshall was 4-4 against the Mid-American Conference midway through that season, but finished 7-9 in the regular season in MAC play. Marshall was 5-9 in season one of C-USA play, then fell in the opening round of the tournament in Memphis. The Herd will start one of two six-day Conference USA road trips on Tuesday, when the Herd flys out of Lexington, Ky. to Tulsa, Ok., to face the Golden Hurricane Wednesday night. Thursday will find the Herd flying to Orlando, where the team will watch the San Antonio Spurs visit the Orlando Magic in NBA play Friday night. Then on Saturday, the Herd will have a rare Noon start against Central Florida in a second meeting with UCF. The Golden Knights won at Huntington back on January 13, 77-71, catching the Herd after losses at George Washington and UTEP on the road. Marshall will be home again on Feb. 14 for a Valentine's Day meeting with SMU, the Mustangs first trip to Huntington, then also hosting the Green Wave of Tulane on Feb. 17, part of a day-night doubleheader with the women who meet UTEP at 2 p.m. that same day.