"We had vast opportunities out there," summed up Marshall senior guard Mark Dorris. "We missed free throws down the stretch."
Dorris -along with teammates Jean Francois Bro Grebe, Taurean Marshall, and Pierre Marie Altidor Cespedes- were honored on senior night prior to the start of the game. And Dorris was correct in that Marshall missed some golden opportunites to get back in a game that Southern Miss led for all but a few minutes early.
Marshall seniors (from left) Jean Francois Bro Grebe, Pierre Marie Altidor Cespedes, Mark Dorris and Taurean Marshall were honored before the game with Southern Miss. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
After taking a 30-25 lead at the half, Southern Miss extended the lead to as many as 8 in the second half behind the scoring of Jeremy Wise, who finished with 16 points to lead the Eagles. Andre Stephens' jumper with 11:51 remaining gave the Eagles a 45-37 lead.
In a span of about 1:30, Marshall guard Mark Dorris singlehandedly mounted The Herd's comeback, scoring 7 points in that timeframe. Dorris hit four free throws and nailed a three that pulled The Herd to within just two points at 48-46. Markel Humphrey's and-one basket and free throw with 6:48 left presented the golden opportunity for Marshall and pulled them to within just one point, 52-51.
"Sometimes on senior night, guys want to make it their night, and I think Mark was trying to will his team to victory, like he did the last time at Tulane," said Marshall coach Donnie Jones of Dorris.
Mark Dorris split Southern Miss defenders R.L. Horton and Demar Dotson on this basket in the first half. Dorris scored 16 points. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
However, that would be the last made basket by Marshall until the final seconds of the game, a span of over 6 minutes. Marshall went 5-of-8 from the free throw line down the stretch, but the lack of made baskets enabled Southern Miss to pull away slowly for the 5-point win. De'Mar Dotson hit a basket and the Eagles hit 4-of-7 free throws to keep Marshall at bay.
"I give my team credit because they went out there and competed, but sometimes you compete and you just don't execute and compete enough to win the game," was the final summation of Marshall's Mark Dorris.
Marshall was led in scoring by Mark Dorris's 16 points, followed by Tyler Wilkerson's 14 points (and 13 rebounds), with Markel Humphrey the final Herd player in double figures with 11 points. Marshall shot 44% in the first half, but a 9-for-30 second half posed problems that could not be made up at the free throw line.
Markel Humphrey crossed the 1,000-point mark on this basket over USM's Craig Craft in the second half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Southern Miss, meanwhile, shot better as the night went on. The Eagles hit 40% in the first half and followed it with a 13-of-27 performance in the second half for a 43.9% final number. The Eagles out-rebounded The Herd by a 39 to 34 margin. Marshall made 15-of-22 free throws, and the Eagles hit 11-of-17.
"Marshall pushed us and we pushed back," said Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy afterward.
The Herd is now 16-13 overall and 8-8 in Conference USA heading into the tournament. Marshall will most likely be the number 6 or 7 seed depending on the outcome of late games on Saturday night. Southern Miss bumps up to 17-13 overall and 9-7 in the conference, locking up the #5 seed in the tournament next week in Memphis.
Marshall coach Donnie Jones put the final perspective on the loss.
"The good thing is we're going into the conference tournament now where all the records are even," said Donnie Jones. "You have a chance to play your way into the NCAA Tournament. And that's what this team is going to have to do."