"This game could have went either way," said Central Michigan coach Jay Smith afterward. "I thought both teams played extremely hard and Marshall is a good basketball team. We found a way to make a couple of free throws and get a couple of defensive stops down the stretch. That was really the story of the game."
The knock-down, drag-out battle between the Chippewas and Thundering Herd literally was decided on the game's final play. CMU's J.R. Wallace stole the ball from Marshall's Marvin Black with 1:21 remaining. After a missed basket by Wallace and a missed three by Mike Manciel, Tony Bowne hit two free throws to give the Chips an 80-78 edge with only :24 left in the game. Teammate J.R. Wallace made one-of-two free throws to seal the 81-78 win.
"That was a tough game to lose," said Marshall coach Greg White. "I thought from the start of the game they outplayed us. They really had a good gameplan and the big fella (Chris Kaman) just creates so many problems for you."
In the first half, five early Marshall turnovers -combined with CMU's red-hot Whitney Robinson, who hit a quick 12 points in only 7 minutes of play- enabled Central Michigan to jump out to a quick 14-5 lead. Marshall spent the rest of the first half playing catch-up, and trailed the Chips by only four, 45-41, at the half.
In the second half, Marshall rallied behind a Ronny Dawn three-pointer, followed by a Marvin Black dunk after Ron Blackshear's pick of T.J. Meerman. The Herd took the lead back with 16:27 remaining, 52-51.
Marshall's Ron Blackshear put this ankle-twisting crossover dribble on CMU's Joe Carr in the first half.
Over the final 16 minutes there would be six tie scores as the Chips and Herd duked it out toward the finish. CMU big man Chris Kaman scored 11 points down the stretch (he would finish with 23), while Marshall's Ron Blackshear dropped in 14 second half points (he finished with 27 to lead all scorers).
"They just came in and worked harder," said Marshall guard Ron Blackshear. "They have the big guy Kaman in there and he worked hard tonight."
"As of tonight there are no undefeated teams in the league and that speaks volumes about the league and how competitive it is," summed up Marshall coach Greg White.
Marshall shot 54.7% for the game (29-of-53), while Central Michigan hit 55.2% (32-of-58) from the floor. Ardo Armpalu (15 points) and Ronny Dawn (11) joined Blackshear as the only Marshall players in double figures. In addition to Kaman, Central Michigan had three players in double figures (Whitney Robinson with 16, J.R. Wallace with 14, and Mike Manciel with 13).
The loss to Central Michigan was Marshall's first loss in MAC play, with the Herd falling to 8-4 overall, 4-1 in the conference. Central Michigan improves to 10-3 overall and 3-1 in the MAC with the win.
Herd Insider writer Matt Lockhart contributed to this story.