The Herd fell of 9-10 overall, 3-2 in Conference USA with the loss to UCF on Sunday. The Knights improved to 13-6, 3-2 in C-USA and are tied for third in the league. Marshall is tied for seventh in the league standings and meets Southern Miss on Tuesday, who is 12-6 overall, 2-2 in league play.
Marshall coach Donnie Jones was happy with the energy by his team, and the shooting on the offensive end, but knows his team cannot allow any opponent to shot 58 percent from the floor (28-of-48) and 73.3 percent from three. "We shot the ball better today and that's a good thing," said Jones. "Our offense was clicking. But give UCF credit, they go out and hit 11-of-15 from three. They made some big-time shots, and I'll give them credit for that, but you've got to find a way to stop teams."
Winning on the road is tough for young teams, and Marshall is starting three freshmen the past three games - Damier Pitts, Shaquille Johnson and Dago Pena. Pitts had his worst game as a member of the Herd, scoring no points and turning the ball over five times to just two assists. "I thought our freshmen played really well, but Damier got off to a tough start. He gets two fouls in three minutes and you can do that as a point guard. He tries to block a shot, which is a freshman mistake. He got two and he has to sit, or he'll get three before the second half. He got himself taken out of the game mentally."
A crowd of 4,845, with a great student turnout, tried to get in the heads of Marshall players with a "Twilight Zone" spinner when the Herd was shooting free throws, and may have thought it was working with the Herd just hitting 8-of-17 from the foul line. But Jones didn't think the crowd was a major influence of the Herd's play. "The crowd was just OK today," said Jones.
"Our young guys have to come in and play well. Home teams play better - they average 81 points here and 61 away, and that's normal. They have the best player (Jermaine Taylor) in the league, he can take it and score. We didn't do a good job of stopping him."
Taylor, who came into the game averaging 23.6 points per game, topped his average with 27 points against Marshall. He would score 13 of his 15 first half points in the final 5:40 of the first half, hitting 3-for-3 from three and two other buckets. He finished the game shooting 9-of-18 from the field, just under his 51 percent average, and 5-of-7 from three.
Marshall was led in scoring by Chris Lutz, who appears to have shed the slump that troubled him in five games prior to the SMU win. Lutz nailed 6-of-14 from three and in the last two games is 10-of-24 behind the arc (41 percent). "Yes, I knew Chris was a good shooter and I had complete confidence in him," said Jones. "He got back into the flow tonight."
Also playing well in front of a number of friends and family from around the state of Florida were Shaquille Johnson and Dago Pena, two of the Herd's three freshmen in the starting line-up the last three games. Johnson scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting and dished out a career-best nine assists against just one turnover when he played extensively at point guard. Pena hit 5-of-7 from the floor, 2-of-4 from three, and had 13 points, two assists and a rebound.
Markel Humphrey followed up his 74-foot, 1-inch three-point game winner against SMU with 12 points and had four rebounds against UCF. Humphrey appeared on the ESPN2 show, "First and Ten," and his shot was the No. 1 play on "SportsCenter" all day Thursday. The senior forward added a steal and a block against the Knights.
But Tyler Wilkerson gave the Herd only four points, to go with a team-leading six rebounds, and Tirrell Baines had four points and zero rebounds. "We have got to get Tyler Wilkerson back into the game," said Jones of his two big men. "It was hard to get the ball inside today, so we took a lot of threes and hit some of them but he, and Tirrell Baines, have to find a way to get them into the offense." Marshall is down another player that could have helped inside when 6-foot-10 sophomore Marcus Goode went home on Friday for personal reasons, leaving the team.
A.J. Tyler had 15 points and seven rebounds for UCF, Tony Davis tied Tyler with seven rebounds and had 12 points and Isaac Sosa hit 3-of-3 from the floor, 2-for-2 from three, and scored 10 points. The Knights were 20-of-22 from the free throw line, 90.9 percent for the game.
Marshall will leave Orlando on Monday morning and fly straight to Hattiesburg, Miss. for a meeting Tuesday night with the Golden Eagles, 9 p.m. (ET). "We have got to put this one behind us and get ready for Southern Miss.," said Jones. "You'll see a different team there, completely different than we saw today. They've been struggling a little, so they will be on edge, and we will too. We'll go in there and battle."
The game can be heard on ESPN 930 AM, The Dawg, 93.7 FM and the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network. It will also air on Comcast Cable's Comcast Sports South, or CSS (Huntington cable channel 68). Matt Stewart and Shane Power will call the televised game. After Southern Miss, the Herd will return home for a four-game home stand and play five of the next six at the Cam Henderson Center.