The loss was only the second Conference USA home loss for Marshall, which is now 14-11, 6-6 in C-USA play, and only the third home loss in 15 home games this year. The Miners stand at 15-9 overall, 6-5 in the conference, with its first C-USA road win, and third road win overall, of the year. UTEP holds a 3-1 record against the Herd all-time, but is a perfect 3-for-3 in winning games against MU in C-USA play. The Herd lost to UTEP two years ago in Huntington, 53-51.
"It is not easy to win on the road in this league. Everybody in this league plays good at home. Outside of Memphis, there is a lot of parity in this league. This is a tough place to play," said UTEP coach Tony Barbee of his first trip to Marshall as a head coach. "Donnie's [Jones] got them going, playing hard, and competing."
Marshall was very good on the glass, out-rebounding its fourth-straight league team by double figures. The Herd had 40 rebounds to 29 for the Miner (and a 16-to-11 edge on the offensive glass, leading to 24 points for the Green and White), but turned it over 16 times to only seven for UTEP and saw the team from El Paso outscore the Herd both in the paint (30-26) and on the fast-break (16-to-0 for MU).
Marshall's Robbie Jackson grabbed this rebound over UTEP's Tavaris Watts in the first half. For the second straight year, Jackson scored 12 points against the Miners, including two dunks, and added six rebounds in the loss. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Representative of the Herd's off night at the free throw line, Marshall's Darryl Merthie missed a critical pair of free throws late that would have given Marshall a three-point lead with 25.9 seconds left in the game. The Herd shot just 19-of-32 (or 59.4 percent) at the line, and made only 2-of-6 in the final three minutes. UTEP faired better at the line, shooting 66.7 percent (16-of-24), but taking eight fewer shots than MU as the Miners had one player foul out and two more finish the game with four fouls in an uneven night for the officials that resulted in 46 personals being whistled.
Just one more made free throw might have made the difference in a game that saw UTEP lead by seven and the Herd by five for the biggest margins of the game. "We missed 13 free throws in the game," said Marshall coach Donnie Jones. "When you play against a very talented team like that you have to make free throws; you have to make plays." But Jones also took some of the blame for the misses, especially late by Merthie. "I probably played Darryl too long. He probably got tired. There will be nights he makes those free throws." Merthie played 33 minutes, but shot just 1-for-11 from the floor and was 0-for-4 from three. Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes was on the bench with foul trouble (and nursing a foot injury suffered in practice) and played only 15 minutes.
Tirrell Baines (10 points, seven rebounds) and UTEP's Victor Ramalho battled for this loose ball in the first half. Marshall's big men hit 18-of-25 shots on the night. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Mark Dorris had the hot hand for Marshall, and scored all 15 of his points from three-point range, hitting 5-of-10. Dorris had never hit five threes in his Marshall career, and with his second of the game became the 15th player all-time at Marshall to have 100 career treys. "It was all about getting stops," said Dorris of the game. "They had good players on their team that could make shots. [Stefon] Jackson and [Randy] Culpepper are good players that were hard to guard. We just have to finish playing at the end and doing the little things. We have to execute plays, make our free throws, hit our shots, and get some stops."
Dorris was joined in double figure scoring by Tyler Wilkerson's 18 on 6-of-7 shooting, including hitting his only three-pointer, and 5-of-7 at the line, despite injuring his hand in the second half. For the second straight year, Robbie Jackson had 12 points against the Miners, tying his career-high which came in El Paso, Texas, last season, and added six rebounds. The Herd also got 10 each from Tirrell Baines and Markel Humphrey.
Humphrey now has 940 career points, while Dorris is at 928 points with four regular season games and at least one game minimum in the C-USA Tournament in Memphis. While Humphrey would appear to be a shoe-in, as a junior, to become a member of the Marshall 1,000 point club, Dorris, a senior, will have to average 14.4 per game to reach 1,000 for his three-year career at MU. Marshall is 10th all-time among Division I schools with 43 1,000-point scorers.
The Herd led the game at halftime, 40-36, but the Miners came out strong in the second half, making 10 of its first 13 shots. When UTEP's Julyan Stone hit a three with 13:02 left in the game, it gave the Miners their largest lead of the game, just seven points, at 60-53. Back came the Herd, as Humphrey and Dorris each hit threes on the next two possessions. Humphrey capped off the 8-3 run with a dunk to put the Herd within just one point, 62-61.
Markel Humphrey (right) and Tirrell Baines applied half-court pressure to UTEP's Julyan Stone. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
In the final 5:43, Marshall did not score a basket after Humphrey's jumper again pulled Marshall within one at 72-71. From that point on, the story is centered on free throws. Marshall hit just four of eight in that stretch, and just two of the final six attempts. Merthie hit one free throw to give Marshall the 76-75 lead, but missed two with :25.9 left after Marshall held UTEP scoreless for almost two minutes.
Following a timeout, the Miners' Stefon Jackson displayed the ability that has him leading C-USA in scoring by calmly hitting a 12-foot jump shot with just :13 left to put UTEP in front by one, 77-76. "A guy like that, you have to be aggressive on defense and try to deny him the ball because he is a guy that will shoot," said Dorris of UTEP's Jackson.
Dorris brought the ball up the court following Jackson's shot, and the plan out of the huddle prior to Jackson's shot was to drive the ball to the basket or take the Herd's final time out and set up a winning play, but Dorris let go with a very deep three that UTEP rebounded and Dorris had to quickly foul. UTEP's Victor Ramalho sealed the win by hitting two free throws to get the 79-76 win, although a desperation three by Merthie just before the buzzer did draw iron from mid-court, but not net.
"I think Mark lost track of the time on the clock, because we talked about taking the ball to the basket or calling our final time out in the huddle (before the shot by Jackson)," said Jones. "We didn't want to take it before driving up court so UTEP would not get a chance to set its defense." Jones was not happy about the loss, but was already preparing his team for Saturday's game with UCF, who rolled East Carolina, 110-75, and beat the Herd by 13 points in Orlando earlier this year.
"Sometimes you play your best games and you don't win," said Jones. "We've been competitive all year long, and we were on a three-game winning streak here. We have nothing to be discouraged about. I told the team, we win together and we lose together. We have to learn from what we didn't do well and what we did do well and go back to work on Saturday."
The mid-week crowd was one of the best of the season. With 15 games in the books, the Herd is averaging 4,996 per game for the season with contests against Central Florida and Southern Miss still to go. When the Golden Eagles come in March 8th, it will the final of a record 17 home games this season. With one more home win, Marshall will have a non-losing season locked up for the first time in five years. With one more win, they will tie the all-time win mark for a season at 15 wins in the Henderson Center.
Marshall now readies for a 2 p.m. Saturday home game against the UCF Knights at the Henderson Center in Huntington. That game is part of a doubleheader with the Marshall women, who play UAB at 5 p.m. The game is designated a "White Out," and all fans are asked to wear their white Herd gear, shirts and sweaters. The women's game will be its final home game of the year, and seniors Meagan Samis, Melody Hudson and Kizzy Hart will be honored before the game.