HUNTINGTON - To say Marshall flipped the script Wednesday night would be an understatement.Coming off three losses that grew progressively more hideous, the Thundering Herd finally took it out on somebody, hammering Tulsa 79-61 to open Conference USA play. A crowd announced at 5,115 at Cam Henderson Center was pleasantly surprised.So was Herd coach Tom Herrion and his players - not that they put behind the 37-point loss to Ohio and won this game, but the degree of domination over the Golden Hurricane. The game was nowhere near as close as the score, as the Herd led by 29 points five minutes into the second half.With DeAndre Kane back in the starting lineup, Elijah Pittman and D.D. Scarver hitting shots and the front line reasserting itself, the Herd won for the fifth time in six home games against Tulsa. In the process, everything and everybody decorated in kelly green seemed to perk up.
"We played without any agendas tonight," Herrion said. "We played so cohesively, every guy contributed, it was good. I've got great faith in my kids, they've shown great character."About the only negatives one could see for the Herd (8-8, 1-0 C-USA) was 20 turnovers and a 16-8 Tulsa run to the end of the game, both inconsequential. All other factors worked squarely in Marshall's favor, including:Rebounding: The Herd jumped out to an immediate 10-1 lead on the boards and closed with a 47-32 overall advantage. More telling, the Herd allowed Tulsa (9-7, 1-1) just eight offensive rebounds, and only two in the first half.
At the other end, the Herd yanked down its usual 14 offensive boards, and turned those into 12 second-chance points. Two such baskets came off missed MU free throws, sparking the Herd's 19-0 run that turned a 6-5 deficit into a runaway.Dennis Tinnon led with 11 rebounds and Nigel Spikes added nine.Defense: The Herd took Tulsa shooters Scottie Haralson and Pat Swilling Jr. out of the game, holding them to 1 of 9 from 3-point range. The Hurricane shot just 26.7 percent in the first half, the big factor in Marshall taking a 43-20 lead into the intermission.
Tinnon's effort was singled out."I thought the first 20 minutes Tinnon played as well as he's played since he's been here, without scoring a point," Herrion said. "We had him on Haralson a lot, we ran a lot of switch situations. He impacted the game more than anybody without scoring a point, and I told him that."The return of Kane: This was his second game back from a hand injury, but the first time he was able to assert himself as he is accustomed. He had five of his seven assists in the first half as he was more comfortable handling the ball, and then he got in a zone shooting. His 4-of-6 effort from 3-point range was easily his season's best and gave him 16 points in 29 minutes.
"It was me shooting in rhythm. I didn't take any bad shots today," he said. "I wanted to set the tone, defensively, get my guys involved, get Pittman good shots, get D.D. good shots, get my big men touches. I know my shots will come."I was shooting shots [Tulsa's defense] gave me, and it's about time I knocked some down."Pittman and Scarver shot well, too: Pittman led all scorers with 19 points and Scarver had 16, combining for seven 3-point goals.Crowd-pleasing play sequences: Pittman got the ball rolling by muscling in for a basket-and-one, putting MU ahead for good at 7-6. He missed the free throw, but Tinnon's rebound led to a Spikes dunk. Robert Goff got in the act a possession later, dunking Tinnon's free-throw miss.
There were alley-oop dunks, baskets in transition and catch-and-shoot bombs. There was Kane stealing in the backcourt after a Tulsa rebound, waiting a count and then feeding the onrushing Scarver for a three-point play. And then there was Pittman's four-point play with 4:33 left in the first half, putting Marshall up 37-15.After drawing the contact while rising to shoot a 3-pointer, Pittman kept his balance just enough to make a one-handed toss that banked off the glass as if he called it. That play drew the most jokes in the players' portion of the postgame press conference."I've got to make anything [Kane] gives me," Pittman said with a smile. Kane responded: "He had to make it. He missed my 'oop' [pass]."And finally, a feel-good story or two. JP Kambola scored a career-high three points and Yous Mbao saw action for the first time after missing 10 games.
Mbao had gotten the worst of a horrific collision with Goff on Nov. 20, remaining hospitalized for the better part of a week. With family-like support from coaches and teammates, he has been recovering from concussion symptoms ever since."He's got a little headache right now, so we've got to be careful," Herrion said. "He is a contagious personality, a fan favorite, everybody cheering for him, so it was nice to get him in there; he got a big rebound. We've got to work him back in, he can be a nice piece for us."The Herd hits the road for its longest road trip of the year, playing Texas-El Paso at 9 p.m. EST Saturday. After that, the team has a week before its Jan. 19 home game against East Carolina.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.