Marshall falls to 9-6 on the season, 1-2 in Conference USA play and just 1-of-5 on the road this season under new MU head coach Donnie Jones. East Carolina, who went 1-13 in C-USA under former coach Ricky Stokes last season, improved to 7-8 on the season and 1-1 in league play under interim head coach Mack McCarthy. The former head coach at UT-Chattanooga improved to 17-11 in league play against the Herd, having posted a 16-11 mark against MU in the Southern Conference from 1985-1997.
Marshall was one of the leaders in the league in opponent three-point percentage defense this season, holding opponents to just 31 percent. Fans would never have believed that at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C., as ECU knocked down 9-of-19 from behind the arc. The Pirates were led by its backcourt, starting with junior guard Sam Hinnant, who buried the Herd with a 6-for-10 night from three and recorded his fourth 20-point plus game of the season with 24 against the Herd (on a 11 point per game average). Also in double-figures for East Carolina were senior guard Darrell Jenkins, who had 14 points and six assists, and freshman guard Brock Young, who scored 12 including 8-of-10 from the free-throw line and eight in a row in the final minutes. ECU hit 18-of-22 in the second half at the line, including its last 16 in a row.
"We had a chance, up eight, but I knew they would make a run," said Marshall coach Donnie Jones, who was an assistant at Marshall for many of the 1990s meetings with McCarthy's Mocs. "The three-point line is so important. Our guys refused to acknowledge that and we just let their offense kill us in transition. Our guys just didn't make good decisions.
"When you're trying to build a program like we are (here at Marshall), mental toughness is more important than physically competing. We have to learn to bring that every day, which we haven't. I have been very unhappy the last two weeks since Markel Humphrey has been hurt. He's our energy guy, he's our leader and he hasn't been able to practice. I've been very, very upset and I've tossed (the team) out of practice a few times, and one of those times was yesterday. This game is a direct result of how we practiced. I'm not surprised we played the way we did."
Humphrey was held to nine points, but led the Herd with seven rebounds despite the stress fracture in his heel. The junior has been averaging a Conference USA high of 38 minutes per game but was held out the last five minutes of the game due to pain, and only logged 29 minutes. "Markel's not able to practice, his timing's off, what did he have...seven turnovers?" Jones asked. It was six for the junior, but the Herd as a team turned the ball over 19 times in the game, leading to 21 points for ECU. "It's hard for him to finish, playing below the rim now. He is going to have to adjust. He's got to keep it simple to try to get in the flow of the game because he is getting no practice time."
Marshall was unable to get a field goal in the last ten minutes of the game until Mark Dorris had a meaningless dunk with 25 seconds left and the Herd down 75-60. Dorris had 15 points, two assists and two rebounds, shooting 5-for-12 from the floor and 3-for-4 at the line. Darryl Merthie was the only other Herd player in double figures with 16 points, hitting 9-for-12 at the line and 3-of-8 from the floor, but Dorris and Merthie each had four turnovers.
When it came to crunch time and East Carolina made its run, the Herd did not seem to have an answer no matter who Jones put in the game. The first-year coach is not only trying to win, he is trying to change the attitude of his team. "They haven't responded very well in the past few years to adversity and we have got to change that mindset. We will go back to work, back to practice (Thursday) and we will find five guys who want to play on Saturday. Our lineup will change, our bench is very limited and our guard play is hurting us right now because we need somebody to score for us there."
ECU hit 22-of-48 from the floor in the game, 46 percent, and were even better from three at 47 percent (9-19). The Pirates out-rebounded the Herd and recorded 10 steals among MU's 19 turnover, which led to 21 points for ECU. Marshall was hot in the first half, hitting 13-of-23, including nine of its final ten shots heading into halftime, including 4-of-6 from three, but the second half was a different story. The Herd made just 8-of-21 from the field, 38 percent, and 2-for-9 from three, 22 percent. Marshall will not have much time to rest, as the coming schedule is brutal for the Herd. Marshall will host UAB on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The Blazers beat Southern Miss last night, 72-65, to improve to 12-5, 2-0 in C-USA under second-year head coach Mike Davis. Marshall will then step out of conference play for the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic men's/women's doubleheader versus WVU, who are 12-4 under first-year head coach Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers are hosting St. John's on Thursday in Big East play. The MU-WVU game is on Jan. 23 then the Herd flies to Houston to get back in to Conference USA play the rest of the way, beginning with the Cougars. UH is 12-3, 1-0 in C-USA, after beating SMU in Dallas on Wednesday, 99-71.