Kizzy Hart scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for her first career double-double on a night where Marshall needed someone to step up. The "Think Pink" theme was part of a national program to heighten Breast Cancer Awareness by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, and over 900 schools, and every team in Conference USA, participated in some way. Both UCF and Marshall had pink laces in their shoes, pink headbands and coaches in pink shirts or ties.
Marshall played well in only its second home game in February, despite missing some key players, and was tickled-pink with the win. "We didn't have our center tonight, and we did it by committee," said MU Head Coach Royce Chadwick, after his team broke a three-game losing streak. "My heart goes out to her, and her family." Tynikki Crook, the Herd's freshman center, is back in Detroit for the Wednesday funeral for her brother. "We wore the (black) ribbons for them.
Kizzy Hart drove against UCF's Chelsie Wiley in the first half of The Herd's win on Friday night in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"I thought our team rallied to do the best we could on the boards, and got some help from our guards. From the 14 minute point (in the second half) to the four minute mark, we really played our best defense and Kizzy took over." Hart scored 17 of her career-best 25 points in the second half, and grabbed nine of the rebounds that led to her first collegiate double-double. "When she saw the stat sheet, she was much more excited about the ten rebounds than the points scored," said Chadwick.
Marshall (13-12, 5-6 and in a four-way tie for fifth with Southern Miss, Tulsa and East Carolina in C-USA) is also down a guard, as Meg Withrow may be out for a month or more with a back injury. Her steady ball-handling was missed as the Herd committed 24 turnovers in the contest, well over its average of 17.7 per game. "We were almost too cautious in the final four minutes," said Chadwick. Marshall blew out to a 15-point lead with 5:21 to play, having out-scored the Knights 21-5 over an eight minute period since the game was tied at 44-44. Marshall had five of the 24 turnovers in that final stretch, but made 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch and hit 26-of-35 for the game, 74.3 percent.
The Herd led by 11 points early in the first half, jumping up 23-12 on a Hart jumper with 10:25 to play. Central Florida (8-16, 1-10 in Conference USA) came back in the final ten minutes by forcing nine of the Herd's 11 first-half turnovers and cutting the lead to one at 30-29. A Melody Hudson lay-up, followed by Alix Barnett hitting two free-throws, Alyssa Hammond hitting one of two on a technical foul on UCF's Tia Lewis and Chantelle Handy hitting a six-footer with four seconds left gave the Herd a 37-34 advantage at the halftime.
Casey Baker applied defensive pressure to UCF's Marshay White during The Herd's win on Friday night. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
UCF turned up the defensive pressure to start the second half, and forced MU to burn a timeout just seven seconds into the second half. The Knights also forced three turnovers and jumped to its first lead since the first minute of the game at 39-38, then 40-38 for UCF's biggest lead of the evening with 15:56 to play. "The number one thing was we got settled in, and Casey Baker had a lot of foul trouble, so Kizzy played the one and the two for us. It took us a little while to get going in the second half, but once we did we played very well until the final four minutes when we got over-cautious," said Chadwick.
"I knew my team needed a basket and they kept getting me the ball," said Hart, a senior who is playing her only season for the Herd after missing last year with an injury. "I took the shots and they were just falling in tonight." Hart hit only 6-of-14 from the field but was 3-for-9 from three and 7-for-7 from the line. Baker, who played only 19 minutes and fouled out with 2:20 to play, hit 4-of-6 for eight points to go with three assists and a steal. Handy and Barnette each added nine points, while Hudson was second on the team in rebounds with seven and Handy had six boards.
Also playing big minutes was junior forward Kendra King with 15 minutes played, only her third C-USA game with double-digit minutes. It was her best game since she had nine points and five rebounds in the loss at Southern Miss as King scored six points and grabbed three rebounds with no turnovers. That made King the only MU player with double-digit minutes to not have a turnover. "I definitely try to do what I can," said King, a junior who has 290 rebounds and 323 points in her career but just 41 this season. "I try to work hard, get rebounds and help my team out any way I can. There is always improvement that can be made, but I thought I did a good job rebounding and boxing out 24 (Emma Cannon)." Cannon averages 12 rebounds, but the Herd held her to 10 and out-rebounded the Knights 45-38 in the game.
Chadwick was excited about three more games in the Henderson Center for this long home-stand of the season. "We haven't been at home for four straight games this year, so we are looking forward to it. We are glad not to have to go to Hattiesburg on Sunday, to sleep in our own beds and go about our usual routine to get ready for Sunday's game." He also knows anything can happen in the final month before UCF hosts the Conference USA Tournament March 6-9. The Herd has a chance to control its destiny and get to the NCAA Tournament. "I wish we had our full compliment of players, but we hope to by the conference tournament. But this is an opportunity knocking for Kendra King, for Alix Barnett, for Meagan Samis to get minutes. They paid a lot of dues to be sitting where they are sitting. They are going to get opportunities to play in the games, and that's why they practice. They give us some fresh legs out there, and we saw that tonight."
Marshall plays Southern Miss on Sunday at the Henderson Center at 2 p.m., on a nationally televised game on CBS College Sports Network (formerly CSTV) and also heard on ESPN 930 AM in Huntington. The Herd will return on Thursday, Feb. 21, for a 7 p.m. meeting with Memphis. The home stand ends with a doubleheader on Feb. 23, as the men face UCF at 2 p.m., followed by the women's game with UAB at 5 p.m. that day, both on WRVC.