MU Win Not Easy In "Big Easy" 70-68 Over Wave

Marshall had everything to play for, but for the first 30 minutes of the game at Tulane it all seemed to be going against MU. A Tuesday 14-hour travel day, spent in the Charleston, W.Va., and Atlanta airports, followed by arriving at New Orleans and getting into bed at 2 a.m. Wednesday appeared to have worn down the Herd, down 15 points and one coach with 17:00 to play in a come-back win, 70-68.

Marshall Head Coach Donnie Jones had been called for two technicals, one right after the other, at the 17:10 mark. The four free throws stretched a 35-28 Tulane halftime lead to 15 points, 43-28, as Marshall saw the Green Wave start the second half on a 8-0 run. Add that to the 8-0 run to end the first half by Tulane, turning a Herd 28-27 lead with 3:27 to go in the opening half into a seven-point lead by Tulane at the half, and Marshall went six minutes and thirty-nine seconds to end and start the two halves without scoring.

As a matter of fact, the Herd didn't have a field goal the last 5:44 of the first half and the first 3:47 of the second half for over nine minutes without scoring from the field. Adam Williams broke that streak with his first career three-pointer at the 16:13 mark of the second half, but Marshall still trailed by 11, 43-32.

The Herd was still down 13 at 59-46 with 10:23 to play, thanks to a three from Tulane's Kris Richard, but Marshall would make its first run at coming back behind the play of senior guard Mark Dorris. Dorris would score the first seven points in an 11-0 run that cut the score to Tulane up only two, 59-57.

Tulane would answer, with Kevin Sims hitting two free throws and Matt Wheaton hitting a three, his only points against MU in two games, and with 5:35 left the Green Wave was up seven, 64-57. Back came Marshall, behind a free throw by Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes (who only scored the one point, but had seven assists, three rebounds and just two turnovers in 35 minutes), a three-point play by Tirrell Baines (team high-tying 20 points, with four rebounds and two steals) and another three by Dorris to cut the lead to 65-64. Out of the media timeout with 3:12 to play, Dorris hit a layup and Marshall retook the lead, 66-65, with 2:58 to play.

"We just had to keep fighting," said Dorris. "We told Coach Jones we were going to win this game when he was sent to the locker room." Jones, who kept up with the game via text messages from family in Huntington listening to the game on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network while keeping an eye on mentor Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators as they played Tennessee on ESPN in the locker room, said Tyler Wilkerson and other players told him they would win the game when he left the court with Marshall down 15.

Dorris picked up his fourth foul ten seconds later, but Eric Vianney missed the free throw and Tyler Wilkerson picked up the rebound. Baines would nail a 12-foot shot at 1:38 to play and Marshall was up three, 68-65. Donnavan Stith would be fouled but hit only one of two free throws and Marshall led by two. Acting head coach Shawn Finney, the head coach at Tulane 1990-95, took a timeout to set up a play with 45 seconds, but Markel Humphrey (20 points and six rebounds) was jarred by contact with the Tulane players andlost the ball in traffic. David Gomez (14 points to lead the Green Wave) would dunk on the other end and was fouled by Baines. The Tulane senior, 6-for-6 at the line up to this point, missed the free throw and Wilkerson, who had a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds, picked off the rebounds and Marshall again took a time out with 14 seconds left in the second game this season Finney as assumed the head coaching duties. He ran the team in a loss at UCF earlier this year when Jones was out with the flu.

With time running down, Dorris took the ball near the top of the key, drove towards the basket, then hopped, stopped and popped runner from about eight feet away and Marshall was up 70-68, but there was one thrilling moment left in this thrilling game. Sims took the inbound pass with :01.6 left, drove to within ten feet of half-court and let go with a shot just before the buzzer that clanked off the front iron and the Herd had a huge win, clinching a winning season, a third-road win and eight wins in Conference USA.

"They set a play for me, and I'm not afraid to take that final shot," said Dorris, who after going 0-for-4 in the first half scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. "I remembered Coach Jones talking about taking the three against UTEP, instead of driving to the basket." The basket for the win was the second of the year for Dorris, who now needs just 25 points to get to 1,000 points in his career. He hit a three at the buzzer for a road win at SMU, and will play his final home game Saturday at the Henderson Center against Southern Miss, and besides being Senior Night, the Herd could finish no worse than fifth in C-USA with a win over the Golden Eagles, even if UCF wins at Tulsa.

"Every night on the floor is special," said Dorris. He talked about how the team rallied behind the assistant coaches once Jones was out of the game. "Coach Finney, he is a general and we are his soldiers. Sometimes we click early in the game, and sometimes it takes time." Jones was also impressed by his team's effort in the face of a long travel day, little sleep, a tough first half for his team and drawing his first technical as a head coach. He reminded the team at halftime what was at stake in this game.

"Sometimes, teams need to know that they are playing for something," said Jones. "It was a first winning season in six or seven years, the first time Marshall has won eight games in Conference USA, the first time we have won three road games since joining the league and that we had a chance to finish fourth in the league. These guys have overachieved all season long."

The Herd (16-12, 8-7) has its first winning season since 2000-01, coming in Jones' first season as head coach. That last winning season came when Greg White was Marshall's head coach, and Jones played for White at Pikeville College from 1984-88 when Shawn Finney was an assistant to White.

Marshall will face a USM team that is 16-12 and tied with Marshall at 8-7 in league play after topping UTEP on Tuesday night in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 96-70. If they beat Marshall, the Golden Eagles can only finish fifth because the Central Florida won the only meeting with Southern Miss. If Marshall wins, and UCF falls at Tulsa, the Herd can finish fourth. MU and the Knights split the season series, but the Herd has one win over the top three schools, Memphis-UAB-Houston, and UCF does not.

The 7 p.m. meeting with Southern Miss in Huntington Saturday will also be the final home game for the Herd's seniors: Dorris, P-Mac and injured seniors Jean Francois Bro Grebe and Taurean Marshall. They will be honored before the tipoff of the game in a presentation with their parents or family friends. Marshall fans were invited by Jones to come this Saturday for a special day. "Our crowds have been great all year, and we need them to come and honor these seniors, a great group, and celebrate with us the winning season and the chance to go to the Conference USA Tournament with a win and possibly a fourth-place finish." The Herd was picked ninth in the pre-season poll.


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