"What a great game and what great fan support again tonight," said head coach Donnie Jones of the Herd. "We really appreciate energy and really lifted our team down the stretch when it was tied."
Both teams played tough defense, although you wouldn't know it from the shooting statistics. But the offenses were in high gear on this night, as Ohio had four scorers in double-figures and so did Marshall. The Herd was led in scoring by Chris Lutz, who came off the bench to score 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from three.
Jones was glad to have Lutz back after missing four games earlier this year with a hamstring pull. "It was nice to have Chris Lutz back, healthy, to carry us down the stretch. We set that play up just for him, and it was up to him to make a play or shot, and he made a couple of them."
Tirrell Baines, who was shutout against Texas-Arlington for the first time in his career, added 14 points and was the leading rebounder with seven. Tyler Wilkerson rounded out the Herd's double-digit scoring with 12 points and five rebounds.
Freshman point guard Damier Pitts continued his run of great play in the last five games, in which the Herd is 4-1 and has won three games in a row. He recorded his first career double-double with 13 points and ten assists. He has 28 assists in the last four games against only seven turnovers, which included three tonight in 36 minutes, also tops on the team.
Tirrell Baines put up two of his 14 points over Ohio's Jerome Tillman in the first half . photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
After a Lutz three with 1:12 left to break a 66-66 tie and give the Herd a three-point lead, Pitts scored four of his 13 points in the final 20 seconds, nailing back to back one-and-one attempts to keep the Herd's lead at three. First at 71-68 with :20 seconds left, then made the final set with six seconds left. The second one-and-one came after Pitts made a defensive play on Ohio's Jerome Tillman, as the point guard's defense caused the big man to lose the ball for a turnover with seven seconds left.
"He really made some amazing plays, and that's the guy I saw at prep school," said Jones. Marshall's coach was not surprised that Pitts made the free throws. "That's the guy we want at the line. He has ice water in his veins. He wants to be there."
Damier Pitts drove past Ohio's DeVaughn Washington to score this layup in the second half of The Herd's 73-68 win on Wednesday night in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
On this night, the Herd would shoot a seasons-best 60 percent (27-of-54) from the floor and 52.9 percent from three, also the year's best from behind the arc (9-of-17).
But Ohio was up to the task, hitting a 62.2 percent 28-of-45) from the floor and 46.2 percent from three (6-of-13). The game was tight in nearly every stat: MU had a 18-17 rebound edge; Ohio had a 32-28 edge in points in the paint; points off turnovers were 14 each; and fast break points were in the Herd's favor, 6-5. The difference in shots was turnovers, as Ohio had 15 to the Herd's 11.
"They have three seniors out there, they are smart, and they are well coached," said Jones of the Bobcats. "You've got to remember Ohio has been to the (NCAA) tournament two times in the last five years, and played with 20-plus wins last year. That's why we have them on the schedule." Marshall and Ohio have reportedly signed a four-year deal to continue the series in the near future.
Ohio head coach John Groce was pleased with the effort of his team, if not the result. "I saw us get better tonight," said the first-year head coach of his now 4-6 Bobcats. Ohio won its opener and since then has played eight of the last nine games on the road. The loss to Marshall was the final leg of a six-game road swing that saw OU lose five of six games.
Ohio's DeVaugh Washington came into the game averaging only 4.3 points per game but led Ohio with 18 points. But Justin Orr, averaging 12.3 points a game had only 11 points. Tillman scored just 14 points and had four rebounds on his average of 19 points and ten boards per game.
Marshall will have to guard against a let-down on Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Herd hosts The University of the Cumberlands, from the Mid-South Conference and NAIA. While they are a lower division than Marshall, they are also No. 1 in the nation in the most recent NAIA poll and have a 10-1 record.
"We worry about a let down, but we've got to coach our guys to respect everybody they have to play," said Jones. "These guys have some good players and you worry about your young players not having focus. That's up to us as coaches."
The men's game is at 7 p.m. on Dec. 20. Earlier on Saturday, the Marshall women's team, 6-3 on the year, will host 8-1 Richmond at 3 p.m. Anyone who purchases a ticket to the men's game can get into the women's game for free. Marshall's men will wrap up the pre-Christmas part of the schedule on Dec. 23 with an 8 p.m. game at Dayton.