Thanks to Houston being upset at East Carolina, UTEP being upset in two overtimes at SMU and Southern Miss losing to Memphis, who may return to No. 1 in the nation on Monday, the Marshall men's basketball team has a mathmatical shot at still finishing fourth in the league despite the rout at the hands of Tulsa in the Reynolds Center on Saturday. The Golden Hurricane beat the Herd by the largest margin, plus-25, that MU has lost by all year (minus-23 against Memphis was previous worst) while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor (30-48), the best an opponent has shot all season against the Herd.
"I give Tulsa credit, I knew they would be ready," said MU head coach Donnie Jones. "Our worse fears as coaches is that we would have a week off and not keep our edge." Marshall did not play Wednesday, the first open date of conference play for the Herd. "Our team is not mature enough to take a week off physically, and come in here mentally and win. I told our guys all week about alertness and the mental edge, but I had to take two timeouts in the first five minutes to remind them, to keep us together. It's not the type of team we have been this year, and that's not to take away from Tulsa, they played a very good basketball game. You can't give up 63 percent from the field or 58 percent from three and beat anyone."
The Herd was down 18 at halftime, and quickly saw that go to 20 as Jerome Jordan, who set a Tulsa single-season mark with the first of seven blocks in the game, hit a shot to make the score 50-30. Jones inserted Taurean Marshall into the Herd's lineup to run the point, and things began to click. MU's defense would hold Tulsa six minutes without a field goal and make a 12-0 run to cut the lead to eight with 12 minutes to play. Marshall, however, injured his right knee, which was hurt earlier this season in the win over Winthrop, and had to be carried from the game. He said after the game he hoped it was only a sprain, not another tear for the senior who missed two full seasons with two separate surguries on each knee as a sophomore and junior.
"I hope we can regroup," said Jones, then pausing and emphatically adding, "We will regroup on Sunday and get ready to go to Tulane." Marshall will leave Tulsa at 6 a.m. to get back to Huntington on Sunday, then fly out again Tuesday to New Orleans for the Tulane game Wednesday night. "It shows a lot about the character of your team, how you bounce back, and we have. I still believe we'll continue to fight, and we'll pray for Taurean Marshall. He brings so much to our team, we really miss him when he is out."
The Herd was led by Markel Humphrey with 16 points,, three assists and six rebounds, four on the offensive glass. After being beat by 13 boards in Huntington, Marshall cut that in half with Tulsa winning the rebounds, 30-24, but MU had a 12-to-8 edge on the offensive glass. Tyler Wilkerson also had six rebounds, but was held to eight points while playing only 23 minutes with foul trouble. Tirrell Baines scored 15 points, while Mark Dorris added 13 points, three steals and four offensive rebounds. Dorris, a third-year senior, now has 959 career points and Humphrey, the junior, 974, as they have at least three games this season to become Marshall's 44th and 45th 1,000-point scorers, which will move MU up to seventh in that category nationally.
In Saturday's crazy C-USA day of basketball, SMU beat the Miners 99-96, to drop UTEP to 7-7 in Conference USA. Marshall is also 7-7 after the loss, and so is Tulsa with the win and Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles fell to the current No. 2/3 Tigers in Hattiesburg by 76-67. Four teams at 7-7, while Central Florida is 9-5 after beating Rice by eight in Orlando, 68-60, but not assured of finishing in front of that group, or by the same token could jump all the way to third.
UCF has two road trips left, to Houston and to Tulsa. UTEP will play at Southern Miss and host 10-4 Houston, who was upset by East Carolina tonight, 84-83, in Greenville, N.C. Tulsa will head to 11-3 UAB before returning home to host the Knights of UCF. Southern Miss has UTEP at home, then comes to Huntington to play MU on Senior Night for Pierre Marie Altidor-Cesdedes, Jean Francois Bro Grebe, Mark Dorris and Taurean Marshall. The Herd will face the Golden Eagles after traveling to New Orleans on Wednesday to met slumping Tulane, who has lost seven in a row to fall to 5-9 in C-USA with tonight's 69-44 loss at UAB.
For the Herd, a win at Tulane, where MU won last season, and a win over USM in Huntington would mean a 9-7 mark. UTEP could win at Southern Miss, but probably not beat Houston at UH. Southern Miss might beat the Miners in Hattiesburg, but probably not win in Huntington. Tulsa will probably lose at UAB, then beat UCF in Tulsa. UCF might lose both, at Houston and at Tulsa.
If the games go as above, Memphis finishes first at 16-0, with wins at SMU and against UAB; UAB and Houston finish in tie for second at 12-4, and one would be third on the tiebreaker; Marshall and UCF would be fourth at 9-7, and the Herd gets the bye with an 1-3 mark against UM, UH and UAB while UCF is 0-4. Tulsa, UTEP and Southern Miss would finish 8-8 and tied for sixth, and ECU could be ninth with wins at Rice and at Tulane in the final week for a 7-9 mark.
With a week to go, there is plenty for Marshall, and the rest of Conference USA to play for. The Thundering Herd will take them one game at a time, and the next game is at Tulane on Wednesday, March 5, at 8 p.m. Eastern on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network. Listen in Huntington on ESPN 930 AM and on The Dawg, 93.7 FM for all the action in New Orleans. Then the Herd will need its best crowd of the year to battle Southern Miss and try to get the best seed possible for the trip to FedEx Forum in Memphis March 12-15 for the Conference USA Tournament.