Prior to Saturday's game, Marshall had recorded its biggest win at Rice to open play in C-USA this year. Marshall knocked off the ailing Owls by 19 points, but had followed that up with a 23-point loss at home to No. 1 Memphis and a 75-62 loss at East Carolina. But the Pirates were on the road for this game, and a 20-game straight losing streak in the league moved to 21 games, thanks to a career-best scoring game by sophomore forward Tyler Wilkerson. Shooting 12-of-13 from the field, Wilkerson scored 25 points, and led Marshall in rebounds with seven.
Marshall's Tyler Wilkerson had a career day against East Carolina. He blocked this shot by ECU's Taylor Gagnon in the second half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"We were proud of our kids," said Jones, whose Herd improved to 12-10, 4-5 in C-USA. "We didn't realize we wouldn't have Darryl Merthie for this game until shoot-around this morning, but his ankle had blown up. That left us with one point guard, because Taurean Marshall's knee was sore from his first game back at UCF. We knew we would have to do some different things, and one was to go inside to Tyler Wilkerson." Wilkerson scored 19 in the first half (hitting 9-of-10 shots) as Marshall roared out to a 36-25 edge at half, despite an 0-for-6 line from three.
"The biggest thing with Tyler is he has to keep focus in practice and continue to get better," said Jones of his sophomore, who only turned 19 a couple of weeks ago. "It's another presence inside and opens it up for Baines and Humphrey." Wilkerson has scored in double-digits in six of his last seven games, and had a career points night following a career rebound night with 13 boards at Central Florida, and 17 points against the Knights in the loss for his second double-double in four games.
In the second half, Marshall got on track from outside, with Markel Humphrey hitting 2-of-2 behind the arc on the way to 15 points. Other starters in double figures included freshman forward Tirrell Baines with 14 points and Mark Dorris, who had to play a great deal of point guard with Merthie out, scoring 10 points. Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes scored eight points, hitting 3-of-4 shots including 2-of-2 from three, and Marshall just missed having all five starters in double figures. Meanwhile, the Herd defense held East Carolina without any player in double figures, as Cory Farmer led the way with just nine points. The Pirates hit 7-of-14 from three, but were only 10-for-30 inside the three-point line, and a just awful 8-for-17 at the free throw line, 47.1 percent.
Marshall's Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes drove past East Carolina guard Darrell Jenkins in the first half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Altidor-Cespedes and Dorris combined for 10 rebounds (six for Dorris), ten assists (five each) four steals (three for Dorris) and just one turnover (P-MAC) on the way to a season low eight turnovers as a team for Marshall. The only other game that had single-digit give-aways was the Princeton game, where MU had just nine. On the other side, Marshall forced 16 turnovers by the Pirates and came up with nine steals. That led to 21 points off turnovers for the Herd.
"The really did a good job, and kept it simple," said Jones of his point guard play. "We wanted to open things up in the post, and those guys did a good job of getting the ball in there. I told Mark, you've got to play there, and he doesn't know the plays at point. But he and Pierre did a great job of getting the ball to the right man."
The other stat Marshall dominated was rebounding. The Herd had 42 rebounds to just 24 for ECU, and the Herd's 19 offensive rebounds led to 28 second-chance points. No player had double-digit rebounds, but seven players had four or more rebounds for Marshall. Wilkerson had seven, Humphrey and Dorris had six each and Baines, P-MAC, Adam Williams and Robbie Jackson each had four. Defensively, Williams shut down the Pirates Sam Hinnant, who opened the game with a three to give East Carolina its only lead. Hinnant had six threes in Greenville on the way to 24 points against Marshall, but finished with only one more three in the game and just six points. Williams also had four assists. Jackson hit 4-of-6 shooting for eight points. "How can you contribute to our team?" said Jones of Williams. "Playing great defense, getting rebounds, he can get more minutes. He's got a great heart for the game."
Marshall's Tirrell Baines was all alone on this fast-break dunk during the second half of The Herd's impressive win over East Carolina in Huntington on Saturday afternoon. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall had six dunks in the game, five in the first half. The big men dominating on the inside led to the second-best shooting percentage of the year, at 52.4 percent (33-of-63). On the other hand, ECU shot just 38.6 percent for the game, making just 17 field goals and shooting nearly 20 times less than Marshall (17-of-44). Marshall scored 46 of 83 points in the paint and limited East Carolina to just 16 points inside. The Herd stretched the lead from 29-points to 36-points in the last four minutes before the Pirates made a final field goal to set the score.
"We told to guys to play possession by possession and to not look at the scoreboard," said Jones. "I told the team before the game we are in an eight-game season, which is now at seven. We have a chance to go get another road win if we play well at SMU, then get our next week back home." Marshall has seven games left before the Conference USA Tournament in Memphis, Tenn. on March 12-15. The Herd will travel on Feb. 13 for at game in Dallas, Texas, at SMU (7-13, 1-6 in league, prior to Saturday night's game with Rice). Marshall will then be home the next three games and four of the final six in the Henderson Center, where the Herd is 11-2 this year, 3-1 vs.C-USA teams. Marshall will host Tulane on Feb. 16; UTEP on Feb. 20; UCF on Feb. 23 and Southern Miss on March 8, following games at Tulsa (March 1) and at Tulane (March 5).