Marshall improved to 4-4 on the season, winning three of its last four games since a 1-3 start in the Glenn Wilkes Classic. But with starters Tirrell Baines held scoreless and Markel Humphrey scoring only three, the Herd needed, and got, other players to step up to take the win. The key was the last 4:28 of the first half, just after the Mavericks of UTA had a 18-point edge on a Marshall team that appeared to be in a bit of a fog in the game smack-dab in the middle of finals at Marshall University.
Tyler Wilkerson scored two of his 21 points over UT-A's J.D. Davis in the first half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"We wanted to get the crowd excited. My goodness, how about that crowd here tonight...Herd basketball in Huntington on a Saturday night," head coach Donnie Jones said after the game. "What a great part they were of bringing this team back, along with our bench."
The bench entered the game with Marshall down 39-21, with UTA on a 10-0 run and just 4:40 left in the first half. Chris Lutz, Octavius Spann, Adam Williams, Marcus Goode and Dago Pena joined with freshmen guards Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson and began to chip away at the lead.
Lutz hit about a 12-foot shot with 4:28, the Herd's first field goal since the 7:12 shot Johnson got credit for on a goaltending call. After a UTA miss, Williams rebounded a missed three and put the Herd withing 14 points at the 3:58 mark. After Jeremy Smith made one free throw for the Mavericks, it was a Spann rebound leading to a Pitts lay-up; Spann got a steal and Lutz hit another shot; a three miss by UTA, a rebound by Williams and Lutz made one of two at the line, but the Herd got the team rebound.
Chris Lutz dribbled past UT-Arlington's Brandon Long in the second half. Lutz scored 10 points. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
With the lead cut to 40-30, Pena buried a three to cut the the spread to seven with 1:39 left. Spann picked up another steal that led to his own lay-up, then one more steal gave Spann a one-plus-one which cut the lead at half to 40-37. The Herd ended the half with a 16-1 run. MU forced five turnover is this stretch.
"As coaches, we're trying to figure out where all the pieces fit," said Jones of his bench play. "That will make those guys better. Good thing tonight is the guys off the bench really played for us. The whole key was the defense. Let's don't focus on our offense, let's focus on our defense. I was looking for energy, and guys to defend, and that's exactly what I got."
One are Jones was not happy with in the game was free throws. While the Herd shot 27-of-32 in the win at Boston University, MU shot only 16-of-31 in the game. Jones knew there would be some problems with four freshmen going through finals the first time. "They have got to make free throws, that's the mental focus part of the game," said Jones. "We were shooting around in practice and they were missing them today. So we practiced (and played) the way they shot, but I have all the confidence in the world in this team. It was just a good team effort and a great team victory."
Damier Pitts hit this three over UT-A's Jeremy Smith in the second half, and finished with 17 points. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
In the second half, the Herd fell behind by nine points early on but defensive pressure continued to force turnovers. Pena hit another three, Tyler Wilkerson made an old-fashion three-point play, Pitts had a steal and lay-up and then Darryl Merthie's three with 13:14 with but Marshall into the lead to stay at 53-51. UTA stayed with-in five points until Spann's lay-up with 4:06 on the clock put the Herd up 70-64. A Pitts three and 6-of-10 free throw shooting down the stretch gave the Herd its biggest lead of the game for the final, up 13 points at the end, 81-68
Tyler Wilkerson led the Herd with his eighth double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and hit 8-of-11 shots. Pitts scored 17 points on on 6-of-11 shooting, 2-of-5 from three and continued the run of assists to turnovers that has been so good the last four games. Pitts was shooting just 20 percent from three in the first four games and had 12 turnovers and six assists. With four assists and one turnover in minutes tonight, Pitts has 18 assists and just four turnovers in the last four games.
Shaquille Johnson laid in this shot late in the second half of The Herd's 81-68 win over UT-Arlington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Pena had eight points off the bench with 2-of-3 from behind the three-point line, and had five rebounds, while Lutz scored 10 points in just 18 minutes but chipped in with four assists. The Herd shot 52 percent for the game, making 29-of-56, and 7-of-18 from three (39 percent). UTA shot 41 percent (24-of-58) for the game, but only 38 percent in the second half with 11-of-29 including a 2-of-11 effort behind the arc.
The Mavericks Anthony Vereen, Roge'r Guignard and Brandon Long all came off the bench about four minutes into the game. Vereen's had been averaging 17.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, including scoring 48 points in to 67-65 losses to Denver and Montana in the Grizzly Tournament. The Herd defense held him to just ten points and three rebounds. Brandon Long led UTA in scoring with 20 points, but just hit 4-of-11 from three. Marquez Haynes added 14 points, right on his season's average. UTA is now 4-4, but 1-3 so far in four games of a ten-game road trip that will not see the team back in Arlington, Texas, until January 14, 2009.
Marshall will meet the Ohio U. Bobcats on Wednesday at the Cam Henderson Center in game two of a three-game home stand. Ohio fell to 4-5 on the season with a 75-66 loss at 4-6 Delaware Saturday night. It will be the 94th meeting between the Herd and the 'Cats in a series that began on January 28, 1931. The teams have belonged to the same conference on three occasions: the Buckeye Conference (1933-39) and the Mid-American Conference (1953-69 and 1997-2005) and this will be the 94th meeting all time, with Ohio leading the series 50-43 all-time. Marshall won the last meeting, in January of 2007, but 70-60, the first Herd win in five meetings in the MAC.