Donnie Jones' first Conference USA Tournament ended in one round with a 48-47 loss to Tulane. In the four previous seasons, Ron Jirsa's teams lost in the quarterfinal round at Cleveland's Gund Arena (now Quicken Loans) or at Ohio in 2005 (although the Herd did beat Eastern Michigan in Huntington in 2004 in a first-round game). But unlike post-season tournaments, the Herd will have a chance to right the ship right away, baseball-style, as they must put this loss behind itself and move on against Wisconsin-Green Bay, who was struggling with Division II Rollins during its first-round matchup at the Ocean Center in Daytona.
Markel Humphrey scored 17 points against Morgan State, including this jumper over State's Reggie Holmes (11) and Rico Myles (4). photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"We've got to come out and make plays," said Jones in the post-game show. "We never got into a rhythm on offense and never got into a rhythm on defense." The rhythm part of the game was partly due to 52 fouls being called on both teams combined, and 54 free-throws being shot as a result. But Jones would not take the easy way out, although at times during the game he was making himself heard loud and clear to an officials staff of Marc Ellard, Brian Shay and former Atlanta Braves catcher Bruce Benedict.
"Tyler Wilkerson missed six easy layups," said Jones of the junior forward, who was just 1-for-8 shooting. To look as the box score, some may lay some blame at the feet of junior transfer Chris Lutz who only hit 1-of-7, and 1-of-4 from three. "Chris has been held out of practice for two days with a tweaked hamstring," said Jones. "But he played very hard." Included in the other things Lutz did were seven assists against just one turnover, on a day the Herd turned the ball over 18 times. Lutz also had a team best in steals with six, and grabbed five rebounds on that bad hamstring."
Shaquille Johnson looked for an outlet through the pressure of Morgan State's Marquise Kately and Joseph Morgan. Johnson scored 13 points in the loss. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"Don't take anything away from Morgan State, though, they are picked to win the MEAC," said Jones. It was the first-ever pre-season prediction of winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the Bears, who returned four starters from last season 22-11, 14-2 in the MEAC. MSU was paced by Marquise Kately with 15 points and Reggie Holmes with 14 points on 3-of-6 from three. Rico Myles added 12 rebounds to six points.
Marshall was paced by senior forward Markel Humphrey, who was 6-of-9 for 17 points with nine rebounds. Freshman starter Shaquille Johnson had his second double-digit scoring night in two games for the Herd (1-1) with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Shooting was not something the Herd did well, however, hitting only 38 percent in the first half and 22-of-54 for the game (41 percent). The Herd was even more dismal from behind the arc, making just 6-of-19 (32 percent) for the game after a 2-of-7 first half.
Junior Brandon Powell had a good second half in his return to the Sunshine State for the first time since transferring from the University of Florida when Jones left the Gators to take the head job at MU. Powell, who didn't attempt a shot in the first half, hit 2-of-3 from the field and both three-point attempts for eight points and four rebounds. The Herd got out to its biggest lead in the first half, up six with 11:21 to go. But Morgan State (2-2) came back to take the lead at 9:45 by one and claimed the lead for good at 9:04.
The Herd cut the lead to two with 2:22 left in the first, at 32-20, but failed to score the rest of the half and trailed 37-30 at half. The Bears kept Marshall off the scoreboard until the 14:56 mark of the second and led by then by 17 points, 49-32. MU spent the rest of the half playing catchup, but could get no closer than four with eight seconds to play. 17-0f-26 from the line kept Morgan State out front for the win.
The Herd faces the Phoenix of UW-Green Bay Saturday at 2 p.m. in a game only heard on ESPN 930 AM, WRVC in Huntington with an air-time of 1:30 p.m. with Vince Payne. The Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network will stay with football, starting with the Tailgate Show at 1:30 p.m., heard in the River Cities on The Dawg, 93.7 FM, but updates will be feed to Steve Cotton and the Herd broadcast team in Houston, Texas for the Marshall match-up with the Owls of Rice. MU must win its two final games for bowl eligibility.
Sunday, Marshall faces Ole Miss at 4 p.m. in the final game in Daytona in the tournament, although Mississippi will play Morgan State in a final tourney game on Nov. 29.