UCF out to kick sand in MU’s face
It seems the folks at Central Florida just might miss its short but barb-filled rivalry with Marshall when it moves on to swing through the Big East jungle.
Just to have a little fun for the Thundering Herd's visit Wednesday night, the school is encouraging fans to dress in beach attire and "heat up the Herd." That mocks complaints coach Tom Herrion and his players had about the heat in at UCF Arena during their Conference USA opener last season.
Tip-off Wednesday is 7 p.m. Bright House Networks will televise the game in Florida, but it is not being picked up in the Charleston-Huntington market.
According to eyewitness accounts, the relatively new gym was sweltering and it took its toll on Herd players. Damier Pitts needed ice to combat cramping, Tirrell Baines' leg tightened up and DeAndre Kane departed for intravenous fluids. Even coach Tom Herrion became dizzy during the first media timeout.
That all came in the newest arena in Conference USA, on a campus that probably owes its existence to the fact that air conditioning makes Orlando inhabitable. Later in the season, another C-USA coach reported comfortable conditions at the 10,000-seat building.
Whatever the case, a crowd of 9,094 greeted the Herd. Of UCF's four crowds above 9,000, two have come with the Herd in the house. Even the Knights' home game with Memphis on Jan. 18, a dramatic victory for the hosts, was a few hundred short of that 9,000 mark.
UCF fans on Twitter instantly labeled this #marshallweek, giving another indication of how the Knights view this game. And certainly, the fact that ex-Herd coach Donnie Jones flew south for winters in 2011 hasn't faded away, for either side.
Between boos directed at Jones, the game Jan. 14 at Cam Henderson Center was a thriller, with the Herd pulling out a 65-64 victory before a season-high 8,379. Kane hit two free throws to provide the go-ahead points, and then Marcus Jordan and Josh Crittle were foiled by the Herd's defense before the buzzer.
Since that game, UCF (17-6, 6-3) has gone 3-2 in league play, beating Memphis but losing at home to league leader Southern Mississippi. The Knights have climbed into fourth place, a full game ahead of Marshall (14-9, 5-4), which has gone 1-5 since their earlier game.
That means Wednesday's game could mean the difference in a first-round bye in the C-USA tournament next month, or could alter postseason fortunes somewhat. It will not be a day at the beach for the Herd, for certain.
This is the second time and final time this C-USA season that Marshall has two straight road games. It would seem to be a sensible way to schedule, but not in the league's Wednesday-Saturday format.
Saturday's game at Tulsa and Wednesday's game at Orlando are too far apart to lump into one trip, so the Herd had to return to Tulsa. Adding insult, the Herd's plane had to make an emergency landing Sunday - in Memphis, of all places.
With no way to get the entire team on another flight home (FedEx doesn't ferry humans on any of their bazillion planes out of Memphis), the Herd had to rent several vans. The last van made it into Huntington at 6:45 p.m., an unexpected intrusion into Super Bowl Sunday.
Some may be surprised by this, but Tulane's Ricky Tarrant won C-USA rookie of the week honors Monday, in part for his efforts against Marshall.
In small, small part. Really, Tarrant was honored for the fifth time this season because he scored 21 points in the Green Wave's 75-54 dusting Saturday of Houston. Marshall held Tarrant scoreless in the first half of a 63-44 Herd victory last Wednesday, before he finished with 11.
So far, the Herd has been skunked on weekly awards. Marshall has not had a player of the week since Tyler Wilkerson was honored the last week of the 2009-10 regular season. Kane is MU's last rookie of the week, honored Feb. 7, 2011.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.