Marshall coach Donnie Jones, however, quickly pointed out that Wilkerson had won the battle of "hustle stats" in this week's practices. "There's a huge correlation," Jones said of the way Wilkerson practiced and the outcome against East Tennessee State.
"Tonight, he stepped up for us."
Tyler Wilkerson fought for a rebound with East Tennessee State's Kenyona Swader. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
It was a game which Marshall never possessed the lead until overtime. Behind Kenyona Swader's 9 points -along with 7-points apiece from teammates Courtney Pigram and Kevin Tiggs- the Buccaneers shot out to a healthy 40-36 halftime lead. ETSU outrebounded The Herd by a 21-16 margin in the half.
Enter Tyler Wilkerson and just-released-by-the-NCAA Darryl Merthie. Merthie learned about 3pm Tuesday afternoon that he had been cleared by the NCAA to play, and wasted no time making up for lost time. Merthie dished out 10 assists and scored 7 points in the game.
"I had a big smile on my face," Merthie said of finally getting to play. "I couldn't stop smiling."
Darryl Merthie moved the ball upcourt ahead of ETSU's Courtney Pigram (3) and Andrew Reed (35. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Wilkerson, on the other hand, put up his 22 points after learning he would start the game earlier in the week. He also grabbed 7 rebounds -five of them on the offensive glass- which tipped off ETSU coach Bartow to Wilkerson's ability.
"They're a phenomenal team on the offensive glass," Bartow said. Marshall outrebounded the Bucs by a 20-10 margin, offensively.
ETSU's 61-49 lead with 11 minutes remaining was slowly chipped away by Marshall via a 28-16 scoring run. After Dequan Twilley sank a free throw to put the Bucs up by two at 77-75, Merthie took the inbounds pass with just :08 left on the clock. The play called was designed to get the ball to Markel Humphrey, but Merthie found the lane wide open and hit the short runner in dramatic fashion, sending the game to overtime.
"My man overplayed me, and I had a wide-open lane," Merthie said.
Markel Humphrey celebrated the win over East Tennessee State in overtime. Humphrey hit the game-winning shot just moments before. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall took their first lead in overtime when freshman Tirrell Baines sank a jumpshot on the opening possession. The lead would be tied four more times in a short four minutes. Kevin Tiggs sank two free throws to give ETSU the 83-82 lead with just :54 left.
Markel Humphrey hit the game-winning shot ten seconds later, and Marshall endured a ETSU shooting-fest that ended when Courtney Pigram's three-pointer at the buzzer narrowly missed.
"The second half, we just got out-scrapped," said Pigram of the Marshall effort.
"We kept scrapping," added Marshall coach Donnie Jones. "It was a chess match tonight."
Wilkerson's career-high 22 points led the Marshall scoring effort, followed by Mark Dorris's 17, Markel Humphrey's 15, and Tirrell Baines' 14 points. ETSU committed 23 turnovers, which The Herd converted to 26 points.
East Tennessee falls to 1-2 overall with the loss. Marshall will travel to Johnson City and play at ETSU in two weeks.
Marshall is now 2-0 in the early season, and prepares for a visit from Boston University this Sunday at 2pm in Huntington.
"They beat us on the offensive boards," summed up East Tennessee's Courtney Pigram.