The Herd of Marshall (11-10, 3-5 in Conference USA)lost for the sixth time in the last eight games, and fell to just 1-8 away from Huntington with the loss to Central Florida (12-10, 5-3 in C-USA)in the simply named New UCF Arena. While the building was a huge improvement for Head Coach Kirk Speraw and his Knights team, Marshall had its chances to win the game even with Head Coach Donnie Jones back at the Herd's downtown hotel thanks to either a virus or food poisoning. In either case, a shot to stop the vomiting left Jones to take it easy while assistant coach Shawn Finney, a former head coach in C-USA at Tulane, to take the helm.
"I really have to thank our guys, they really fought in there," said Finney, who was the head coach of the Green Wave from 2000-05. "I thought we came in with a good edge, and Coach Jones had come in with a good game plan yesterday. We were right where we wanted to be with four minutes to play." UCF jumped to a ten-point lead just two minutes into the second half, after leading 33-29 at half. Marshall cut the game to one on a Matt Wall three at the 15:59 mark and back and forth the game went until there was just 4:15 to play and the Herd trailed 61-58 on a Markel Humphrey stick-back.
The Herd would not hit another field goal until there was ten seconds left and UCF had blown the lead out to 16 points at 77-61. "We kind of panicked, started chucking up three instead of taking the ball inside where we had been having success," said Finney. He was right about the inside game, as sophomore Tyler Wilkerson had his second double-double, leading Marshall with 17 points and a career-best 13 rebounds. Humphrey added 12 points, but hit only 5-of-14 shots and was 0-for-3 from three. Mark Dorris 96-of-10 shooting) had 15, but MU was undone by missing its final ten three-point attempts.
"I think Tyler has really grown in the past four or five games," said Finney. "He was diving on the floor for balls, making the extra effort. He had the edge you want to see in a player as a coach. He has let the success come, and keep working and keep getting better. We have to get him more shots in the paint." Wilkerson hit 6-of-9 shots and was 5-for-7 at the line.
Marshall was also undone by a career-best night for UCF guard Jermaine Taylor. Coming into the game with a 21.5 point per game average, 14th in the nation, Taylor powered over, around and through the Herd for 34 points. He hit 14-of-23 from the field, 2-of-5 from three and 4-for-4 at the free throw line. "I thought Adam Williams did a great job, getting up in his face and frustrating him. When we put Adam in, Taylor had, what, 30 points? Adam brought the intensity we wanted for him on defense."
While Marshall held the Knights to its season average of 45 percent shooting, and below its three-point percentage average (5-of-16, 30 percent), the Knights were nearly perfect at the line. UCF hit 18-of-23, 78 percent, and two of the five misses came when Speraw cleared the bench in the final moments.
On the positive side, the Herd out-rebounded UCF, 37-33, on the night. Marshall shot well, up to the point where they missed those ten threes down the last minutes of the game. Take those away from the 22-of-57 shooting night (39 percent), and just 5-for-26 from three (19 percent), you have a 22-for-47 night that is 47 percent. The three percentage for 5-0f-16 is 32 percent. Of course, if you make those threes, or even half, the Herd probably comes up with its second win away from the Henderson Center. Marshall also scored 18 second-chance points, thanks to 13 offensive rebounds.
Marshall will return home to play four of the next five games at home, beginning with East Carolina this Saturday at 2 p.m. While Finney is glad the Herd will be home after a January and early February that has seen the Herd in Houston on two separate trips, for UH and Rice, as well as traveling to East Carolina, UAB and UCF. "You can't go home and take a big breath like, whew, we're home. We have got to take the business-like approach to all the home games and work hard to get better each night," said Finney.