Pirates Pay PENAnce, 72-64

HUNTINGTON - Marshall had lost three of its last four games, all on the road including the Conference USA opener at Memphis earlier this week. But like the little girl in Kansas, there is no place like home for the Herd. Tyler Wilkerson continued his 2009 hot streak with a tenth career double-double and MU shot-down the Pirates of East Carolina, 72-64. The Herd is 8-7, 1-1 in C-USA.

One of the problems for the Herd in the last four games has been long stretches without scoring any points on offense, as happened at Dayton, at home with Tennessee State, at San Diego and at Memphis. It appeared that problem had raised its ugly head again when MU went without a point the last minute of the first half and nearly the first four minutes of the second half.

Dago Pena scored this basket over Jabar Abrams and got the free throw to help Marshall move past the ECU Pirates in the second half Saturday. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

The Herd saw a 33-33 halftime score (the first tie at half for either team this season) quickly become an eight-point hole as Jamar Abrams hit a pair of threes to put East Carolina (9-6, 1-1 C-USA) up 41-33. Marshall didn't score until Markel Humphrey hit a pair of free throws four and one-half minutes into the second half, then Tyler Wilkerson hit a offensive rebound but Marshall was down six, 45-19, with 15 minutes to play.

"We just kept talking to the team about getting a stop," said Marshall head coach Donnie Jones, "and the offense would come. We rode our horses (Wilkerson and Humphrey inside) and took just nine threes in the game. We also did a much better job of taking care of the ball in the second half, and we had seven stops in a row." In fact, in the last eight minutes of the game, the Herd held the Pirates to only 1-of-10 shooting from the floor. During the final minute of the game, Marshall hit 6-of-8 free throws and were 22-of-25 for the game from the line.

Tyler Wilkerson threw down this dunk during the first half of Marshall's 72-64 C-USA win over East Carolina on Saturday. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

"We have had those lulls where we would go six, seven or eight minutes without scoring, and we told our team to take it inside," said Jones. Marshall out-scored the Pirates in the paint by 34-to-20 in the game and had a huge rebounding edge of plus-17 in the game, 31-14. Marshall had 11 offensive rebounds, and that led to a 13-to-2 edge in second-chance baskets.

Wilkerson was 7-of-10 from the floor, 10-of-12 at the line and recorded his second double-double in three games (22/15 at San Diego). The junior forward has averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds per game over the first three games of 2009. Humphrey was 3-of-6 shooting, 5-of-6 from the line and scored 11 points with six rebounds. Baines rebounded from only one point and five rebounds the last two games with six points and two rebounds, four of those points to start the game.

"Look at the rebounding stats, we overwhelmed those guys," said Jones, one of his "hustle" stats he keeps for each game and practice for the Herd. "And how about the crowd! I thought it was by far the loudest crowd of the year," said Jones of the 5,176 who turned out for the afternoon tipoff.

The Herd was down five, 56-51, with 8:32 to play, then went on the run that would win the game, keyed by a number of different MU players. Wilkerson hit two free throws, then rebounded a miss. Humphrey worked a lay-up, freshman guard Shaquille Johnson grabbed another ECU miss and Wilkerson drained a 15-foot shot for the lead with six minutes to play, 57-56. Another miss by the Pirates, Wilkerson grabbed a rebound and fed to Johnson for a dunk that had the Henderson Center crowd on its feet.

Shaquille Johnson moved past East Carolina's James Legan during the second half of The Herd's 72-64 win. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

Back came East Carolina, but the Pirates missed its fourth shot in a row. Humphrey rebounded and the feed went inside to Wilkerson. Humphrey rebounded the miss, missed and rebounded again, missed and watched as Wilkerson went up for a rebound and thunderous dunk that put an exclamation mark on a 10-0 run and a 61-56 MU lead. After a time out by ECU head coach Mack McCarthy, the Pirates missed a fifth-consecutive shot, leading to two Damier Pitts free throws. A sixth miss was then rebounded by Pitts, who fed fellow frosh Dago Pena for a long three and Marshall would end with a 15-0 run of over five and one-half minutes and a 66-56 lead.

Abrams finally hit another three with 1:40 to play, but it had been almost seven minutes since his previous three and that was the only field goal for the Pirates in the final 8:30. Humphrey and Wilkerson knocked down free throws in the final minute to put away the win, 72-64.

Pena played an extremely good game, bouncing back from a 0-for-5 night (0-for-3 from three) at Memphis with by scoring 14 points off the bench by making 5-of-6 from the floor and a perfect 3-for-3 from three, plus pulled five rebounds. Johnson was 4-for-4 from the floor and had nine points while Pitts hit 6-of-6 from the line for six points, three assists and only one turnover for the freshman point guard in 28 minutes played.

Chris Lutz's struggles continued, as the junior hit just 1-of-3, missed his only three and had six of the 19 turnovers the Herd recorded. "I'm a fan of Chris Lutz," said Jones of his shooting guard. "It's just a slump and he will work through it, but we have a lot of confidence he will get going again." Daryl Merthie was 0-for-4 shooting, but had two assists, no turnovers and a steal in 12 minutes of relief for Pitts.

For the game, Marshall shot 55 percent, making 23-of-42 shots, and hit 4-of-9 from three (44 percent). Over the last two home games, Marshall is 46-of-50 at the free throw line with 22-of-25 against ECU. The Pirates shot well for the game, 22-of-45 for 49 percent, but Marshall held the Bucs to 9-of-23 in the second half (39 percent) and just 4-of-13 from three (31 percent). For the game, the Pirates made 10-of-23 threes, 44 percent. East Carolina was averaging 37 rebounds per game before coming up with just 14 against the Herd.

The annual trip to Charleston to meet West Virginia is up next for the Herd at Wednesday's sold-out Chesapeake Energy Capital City Classic. The MU women, who won their second-straight road game today at Tulsa (51-37) will meet WVU at 5:30 p.m. while the men's game tips at 8 p.m. The Mountaineers, ranked No. 22 this week, have lost two straight but to No. 5 UConn by six at home on Wednesday and by 22 at No. 15 Marquette on Saturday. "It will be a great atmosphere," said Jones of his second Classic as a head coach. "West Virginia is a very well coached team by Bobby Huggins. We will have our hands full."

The Marshall Big Green is hosting a "Herd Madness" event at 11:30 a.m. at the Charleston Marriott (next to the Civic Center) on the day of the game. The cost is $15 and both MU head coaches, Donnie Jones and Royce Chadwick, will speak at the buffet lunch. There will be door prizes and a special video presentation of Marshall basketball wins. Call the Big Green for reservations, 866-443-7310 by Monday if possible.

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