For Marshall (9-11, 2-4 in Conference USA), it was the seventh road game in the last ten and marked the seventh road loss in that period as the Herd is now 1-10 away from the Henderson Center. The good news for the team, and the MU fans, is the Herd will play four in a row at home starting Saturday with UAB, five of the next six and seven of the final 12 games in the comfy confines of "Herd Heaven."
But this was a hell of a loss for Marshall against Southern Miss (13-6, 3-2 in league play). The Herd shot lights out in the first half, hitting a seasons-best 69.2 percent from the floor and 6-of-9 from three, 67 percent, and led by six at the break on back-to-back threes by junior Chris Lutz in the final 36 seconds of the first half.
Out came the Herd in the second half and quickly jumped out to a ten point lead at 51-41 at the 19:21 mark on a Tyler Wilkerson 12-footer. But then back came Southern Miss, led by Courtney Beasley. The senior, who topped 1,250 career points tonight, scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half. USM went on a 18-2 run and turned that Herd ten point lead into a six point lead for the Golden Eagles at the 13:05 mark. Marshall did not have a field goal for over six minutes and 33 seconds until Wilkerson again hit for a basket at the 12:48 mark, another long stretch without scoring that is filling the evenings of the coaching staff with a lot of film study and game planning.
Marshall head coach Donnie Jones said after the game the long-sought road victory was within the Herd's grasp. "Yes, it was," said Jones. "We're trying to learn to win on the road and have some toughness about us. You have to go take it. When you are up ten points, you have to go up 12 or 14 points or 16.
"It's a team loss and you have to step up and play," Jones said. "Some of our veterans like Markel Humphrey, he's a senior, he has to find a way to take our team to a win. He's great player and needs to be a leader for our team, but he takes just two shots tonight, he has four rebounds and just six points and was in foul trouble the whole time. There were some big plays down the stretch, Tyler Wilkerson and Tirrell Baines, they have got to rebound and get us more shots and they haven't been doing that."
In the second half, Southern Miss dropped into a zone and the Herd could not make the shots that were falling so well in the first half. The Herd would make only 2-of-16 from three in the second half, and hit only 9-of-28 shots overall. Meanwhile, the Eagles were attacking the basket and making baskets or getting to the line, shooting 13-of-23 from the field (57 percent) and only trying two threes, both of which they missed. The Eagles scored 26 points at the foul line in the win.
"That's a whole 'nother story," was all Jones would say about a game where Southern Miss went to the line 36 times to just 23 for Marshall and made 17-of-23 in the second half, going on the bonus with eleven minutes left and the two-shot bonus just three and one-half minutes later. Marshall hit 12-of-13 at the line in the second half but did not get on the bonus until there were under six minutes left and got to the two-shot bonus with :04.6 left in the game.
Southern Miss was led by, in addition to Beasley, 6-foot-8 center Andre Stephens, with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Also in double figures were Craig Craft with 16 points (and who has 77 points in the last four USM games, 19.2 per contest) while R.L. Horton scored 14 and Jeremy Wise added 12 points and seven rebounds in 40 minutes played.
Marshall got a terrific bounce-back game out of Damier Pitts, who was shut-out for the first time in his freshman year at UCF. Pitts led MU with 18 points, hitting 5-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-6 at the line to go along with seven assists and just two of the Herd's 14 turnovers. Marshall's other freshman guard, Shaquille Johnson, scored 16 points and snagged four rebounds. Frosh forward Dago Pena came off the bench to lead the Herd with seven rebounds, and also with three offensive boards, and scored four points.
Wilkerson had ten points and four rebounds, while Chris Lutz came off the bench to score 14, but 12 of those points came in the first half when he was 4-of-4 from three. He was 1-of-7 from the field, and 0-of-6 from three, in the second half and on the night shot a looks better than it is 5-of-13 and 4-of-10 from three.
His deceptive final shooting percentage from three mirrored the Herd's as a team, who after shooting so poorly in the second half still shot 50 percent for the game in 27-of-54 field goals and hit 8-of-25 from three (32 percent). The Herd allowed the Eagles to shoot 49 percent (27-of-55) and held them to 28.6 percent from three (4-of-14). MU came into the game ranked 329 of 330 teams in D-I basketball in opponent's three-point percentage.
NOTES: It was win number 400 at the Reed Green Coliseum for the Golden Eagles...The game also marked the 500th game the "Voice of the Herd," Steve Cotton has called for Marshall on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network in football and men's basketball...The Herd was unable to return by its chartered airline, Express Jet, on Tuesday night due to the ice and snow in the Tri-State...The team hopes to get in the air before Noon on Wednesday and get back to Huntington and get in a practice...UAB is up Saturday night for the Herd, followed by Tulsa next Wednesday, Feb. 4, and Tulane in the Henderson Center on Feb. 7.