"We held them off at the end, but it was a wild finish," said Jirsa of his team's eighth win at home against four losses. "To hit eight of ten free throws in the last minute or so was tremendous. Our players did a nice job on defense in the second half, nice job of switching." Marshall held the Mustangs without a field goal from the 9:19 mark of the second half, when SMU took a 39-31 lead, until they hit a put-back with 29 seconds to play to make the score 49-43 Marshall. Chris Ross hit two free throws to put the Herd up by eight with 17 seconds to play, but the game was far from over.
Dez Willingham of SMU leaned into Travis Aikens outside the three-point line with :13 to play and hit all three free throws to cut the lead to five. Then senior Tre Whitted threw the inbound play away, taking just two seconds off the clock. Brian Epps knocked down a three for the Mustangs with 10 seconds left and the Herd led only 51-49. Mark Dorris was fouled on the inbounds play and made one of two to give SMU a final shot from three, but good defense by Ross on Willingham forced an off-balance shot that rattled off the back iron and Whitted tipped the rebound deep into the Marshall end to clinch the win.
Darryl Merthie drew a blocking foul from SMU's Jon Killen in the first half.. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"Defense has got to be what we hang our hat on," said Jirsa of his team in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Dorris led the Herd with 14 points, hitting on 4-of-9 shots after just shooting 33 percent the last three games. But he was only 1-for-5 from three as the Herd missed all nine attempts from behind the arc in the first half and its first 14 three attempts. Again, though, Marshall hit the last three of five threes in the game. "Markel scored better on the road, but didn't rebound as well," said Jirsa of Humphrey, who had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. "He really got going in the second half, hitting some big shots and getting some really big rebounds late in the game for us." Humphrey scored nine of his 11 points and grabbed nine of his ten rebounds in the second half.
The two teams combined for a futility record at the Cam Henderson Center, scoring just 36 points in the first half. The 18-18 score set a new record, topping the 23-17 halftime total of 40 points by East Carolina and the Herd back on Jan. 31 of this year, with 17 being the all-time low for any team in a first half at the building that opened in 1981. The 101 combined points were the third lowest total of all time, just behind 99 combined points by Marshall and Miami, Ohio in a 51-48 RedHawk win in overtime back on Jan. 28, 2003; and the same total points in a MU win over Fresno State, 55-44, back on Dec. 20, 1985. Marshall's 52 points in a win is the lowest winning point total for Herd basketball since Cam Henderson's 1951-52 Herd topped Texas A&M that season, 46-40.
Tre Whitted put up a shot over SMU's Donatas Rackauskas during The Herd's 52-49 win over the Mustangs on Wednesday night in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Also chipping in on the win was Ross with 11 points, five assists, three rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot, against just three turnovers, in 35 minutes of playing time. The Herd turned the ball over 16 times in the game, but SMU turned that into only 10 points. Tyler Wilkerson continued his second half of the season brilliance with six points, on 3-for-3 shooting, and eight rebounds. The 18-year old freshman has picked up 43 points and 61 rebounds in the last ten games, after just scoring six points and grabbing 11 rebounds playing in just 10 of the first 14 games this season.
"Tyler hit a big shot for us late," said Jirsa of a hook shot that gave Marshall its biggest lead of the night at 43-40 with 2:27 to play. "He grabbed some big rebounds and blocked some shots as well." Wilkerson also led the Herd with two blocks and three steals on the night.
Marshall is now in a five-way tie for sixth place in Conference USA, with Tulsa (who the Herd split with), UTEP (who beat MU), UAB (who the Herd has one win against and will play Feb. 24 in Birmingham) and Tulane, who comes in this Saturday to the Henderson Center for a 7 p.m. game. It is part of a day-night doubleheader with the MU women facing UTEP at 2 p.m. that day. Tulane pulled an upset Wednesday night over Central Florida, beating UCF in New Orleans 86-80. Also pulling the upset was UAB at home, beating another former second place team in the Rice Owls, 84-73.
Houston remains in second at 7-3 in league play, despite losing at home to former MU assistant coach John Pelphrey and South Alabama on Wednesday, 66-61. Memphis is 12-0 in league play after a 69-52 win at Tulsa tonight. UH is second, Rice and UCF are tied for third at 7-4 and Southern Miss, who kept East Carolina winless with a 80-42 win in Greenville, N.C. on Wednesday, is 6-5 in league play. SMU is now 2-9 in league play and in 11th place while ECU is 0-11 for the year in C-USA.