Herd Tames TSU Tigers, 74-60

Most coaches know coming out of a holiday break can be tricky, no matter the opponent in that first game after a Christmas break. Herd coach Donnie Jones saw that up close and personal in his first year at Marshall when Lipscomb handed the Herd a 72-62 loss on Dec. 29, 2007. But on Sunday, it was all the Herd in the first half, then hanging on in the second half for a 74-60 win over Tenn. State.

Marshall came out like gangbusters in the first half of Sunday's matinee with the Tigers of Tennessee State, out-scoring TSU 42-21 in the first half. Adam Williams got his first start for the Herd on defense, and was responsible for holding Jerrell Houston to just seven late points in the first half.

"Adam is one of the players who play's the way I want our team to play: tough, with great energy," said Jones. "That's why I started him today. Offensively, Adam has to keep things simple and take care of the basketball. Adam going to play for us, he is going to get minutes." Williams played 11 minutes, with a rebound but did not score.

Chris Lutz hit this runner in the lane to help keep Marshall out in front of Tennessee State late in the second half of The Herd's 74-60 win Sunday. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

The Herd dominated the first half of the game, holding TSU (3-8) without a field goal until the 13:23 mark of the first half. By then, Marshall (7-5) was up by as much as 13 points, 16-3, and continued to run that total up to as much as 22 points with four minutes left in the half before going in with the 42-21 lead.

But Jones expected the second half run by the Tigers. "Give Tennessee State credit. They didn't quit, they came out and competed like I knew they would," said Jones. "They did the same thing against Alabama." That was a game TSU trailed by 14 at the half, 39-25, before losing 75-66 and out-scoring the Crimson Tide in the second half.

The second half was just like the first, except now it was Tennessee State doing the scoring and Marshall who could not make a field goal. Chris Lutz nailed a three at the 12:53 mark that put the Herd back up by 11 points after the Tigers had cut the lead to eight at 44-36.

Octavius Spann battled Tennessee State's Wil Peters for this loose ball in the first half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

TSU's Gerald Robinson, who averages 19 points per game, scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half and nearly led the Tigers all the way to the win when the lead was down to four points at 51-47 on a Robinson three. "There's no question, he can get his own," said Jones. We put different people on him, changed defenses, went zone, but we were just hoping he would miss instead of getting stops."

Marshall senior Markel Humphrey would not allow the Herd to fall. While still nursing a bone bruise in his left foot that kept him on the floor just 19 minutes, the Herd's captain answered the Tigers push with four straight points, followed by a Damier Pitts three, that put the Herd up by 11 points again, 58-47, with 7:15 to play. Once more time, Tennessee State came back from ten points down with 3:19 to play to cut the Marshall lead to six, 66-60, with just 2:14 left. A Lutz lay-up put Marshall back up eight, then Darius Cox missed both of his free throw attempts.

Marshall hit the boards, grabbing three offensive rebounds on its own end, after the misses by Cox, before Lutz and Pitts made six straight free throws to ice the game at 74-60. Marshall made its final 12 free throws in a row in the final 5:50 of the game. "The free throw line is important, and we found a way to win," said Jones of the 24-of-25 night at the stripe. "The thing I wasn't happy about was we didn't defend, despite just giving up 60 points. We got to get better on defense.

Tirrell Baines knocked this rebound away from Tennessee State's Darius Cox in the second half of Marshall's 74-60 win over the Tigers. Baines led Marshall in scoring with 18 points. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

"Our bench has to give us minutes and we didn't trust our bench today. I'm playing three guards some time, but that's who we are as a team (with Humphrey injured). We'll get two practices in on Monday, two practices on Tuesday, see a lot of film and we have to get better this week."

The Herd was led by Tirrell Baines in a nearly perfect day for the sophomore forward. He hit 5-of-6 from the floor, a team-best 8-of-8 at the free throw line, grabbed six rebounds to tie with Humphrey for the team lead in that category, had an assist, two blocks, a steal and no turnovers in 33 minutes played. Lutz had 17 points, hitting 3-of-7 from three and 6-of-6 at the line. Pitts had 14 points, six assists and three steals to offset three turnovers, and he too was perfect at the line with a 4-for-4 day.

Freshman forward Dago Pena was 2-for-2 at the line and scored eight, as did Humphrey. The Herd senior missed the only free throw in a 24-of-25 shooting day. "We had a couple of days off. Then we had a practice (on Thursday night and Friday). But we didn't practice very well," said Jones. "Shaquille Johnson didn't play much tonight, as he turned his ankle pretty severely in that first practice."

Marshall was also missing 6-foot-10, 300-pound center Marcus Goode, who had scored seven points in 15 minutes against Dayton. Goode injured his knee again and did not even warm up with the team. Freshman forward Kore White did play four minutes for the first time since the Wisconsin-Green Bay game in Daytona Beach, Fla. over Thanksgiving.

Tennessee State made only 8-of-21 free throws, 38.1 percent, despite coming in with a team shooting percentage of 75 percent at the line. Gerald Robinson, Jr. led the Tigers with 21 points, while Houston had 14 points and Parker Smith 10 on 2-of-6 shooting from three. The rest of the Tigers hit only 2-of-10 from three combined. Cox had nine points and led all players with seven rebounds.

Now Marshall will leave on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, for the West Coast to play San Diego on Friday, Jan. 2, at 10 p.m. (ET). That game will air on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network but only in Huntington on WDGG 93.7 FM, "The Dawg," with the Sugar Bowl airing at 8 p.m. that same evening on ESPN 930 AM. "San Diego will be a tough battle out there," Jones said of the USD team who upset Kentucky, then fell to the Herd 76-60 just a couple of days later on an eastern swing. The Toreros made the NCAA Tournament last season. "Remember, they beat UConn. They have got all of their starters back, we have to fly across the country and it will be a challenge for us."

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