And Jones was correct. In both the UTEP and UCF games, Marshall shot exactly 32 free throws in each game. Unlike Wednesday's disaster of only making 19 of them (and losing by just three points), Jones's team went out and sank nearly every one against UCF (27-of-32). Which was enough to keep the Knights at arm's length in the final few minutes of the game.
Mark Dorris leaned into UCF's Dave Noel in the lane during the second half. Dorris hit 12-of-15 free throws against the Knights. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
A sluggish first half for Marshall blossomed into a fast-paced, deliberate second half. UCF's MIke O'Donnell drained multiple threes early on, and scored 13 of the Knights' 24 points to keep UCF within just one point, 25-24, at the half.
"We were worried about Michael O'Donnell being the `X' factor especially in the first half with 13 (points)," said Marshall coach Donnie Jones.
After torching Marshall for 34 points in Orlando last month, UCF's Jermaine Taylor was a no-show for today's game. Taylor hit just four of 13 shots, scoring only 10 points. Marshall guard Pierre Marie Altidor Cespedes covered Taylor all game long.
"Before the game that was one of our main concerns to make sure he doesn't get anything close to 34 if possible," Alitodor Cespedes said. "I think defensively we were just aware of him more and we tried to focus on him."
Tyler Wilkerson threw down this fast-break dunk as UCF's Mike O'Donnell looked on. Wilkerson led all scorers with 22 points, 15 rebounds. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The second half was all about transition for Marshall, namely, Tyler Wilkerson. The Herd's sophomore center pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds and scored 22 points. 13 of those points came in the second half alone. His fast-break dunk with 5:46 left in the second half pushed Marshall's lead back out to 8 points at 54-46.
""He's a very good player," added UCF coach Kirk Speraw of Marshall's Tyler Wilkerson. "You've seen him emerge in conference play, give him a lot of credit; obviously he's working very hard."
Tirrell Baines went up for two of his 10 points over UCF's Jean Michel Yotio. The Knights' Stanley Billings (background, 21) had a firm grasp on Baines' jersey. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
With UCF still clawing at Marshall late in the game, The Herd simply went out and did what they failed to do against UTEP just three nights prior, and that was make free throws. The Herd hit 9-of-9 in the final 1:25 that offset threes by UCF's O'Donnell and Mike Battle. Mark Dorris sealed the Knights' fate in a memorable seven-second span. With just :11 left, Dorris drained two free throws. On the next possession, he sprinted down court and Markel Humphrey threw the football-like pass to Dorris, who dunked on UCF's Kenrick Zondervan with only :04 left. O'Donnell's prayer of a three from mid-court as the buzzer sounded went in, but it was too little and too late for the Knights as Marshall walked away with the 71-66 win.
In addition to Wilkerson's 22 points, Marshall had double-digit scorers in Mark Dorris (18 points) and Tirrell Baines (10 points. The Herd shot 45.7% for the game (21-of-46), while UCF hit just 40.0% (22-of-55). Both teams shot over 50% in the second half.
"Everybody stepped up and made key free throws down the stretch," summed up Marshall's Mark Dorris of the win.
The Herd is now 15-11 overall and 7-6 in Conference USA. The Knights dropped to 14-12 and 7-5, respectively. The Herd gets a somewhat easy week to prepare for next Saturday's visit to Tulsa to play the Golden Hurricane.