Marshall's Nigel Spikes blocks a shot Saturday against Central Florida.
HUNTINGTON - His Central Florida teammates had figured out Saturday they'd better do something different than challenge Nigel Spikes inside, but Kasey Wilson didn't get the message.
With his Knights ahead of Marshall 51-49, the 6-foot-7 sophomore reserve tried to throw down an exclamation-point dunk, but Spikes emphatically sent the ball - and Wilson's arm - back.
A few minutes later, after Dennis Tinnon gave the Herd a 60-59 lead, Wilson tried another dunk and it slammed off the rim and out of bounds, courtesy of Spikes. That was Spikes' eighth of his career-high nine blocks that afternoon, and helped turn the tide in Marshall's 75-71 victory at Cam Henderson Center.
On the Herd's next possession, Elijah Pittman hit a 3-pointer to give the Herd the lead for good at 63-60. At that point, the lead had changed 16 times and there were 11 ties.
But in the final four minutes, there was no more of either, and Spikes played a large role in that.
With the score 63-61, Spikes deflected an Isaiah Sykes shot that could have tied it. Sykes got the ball back, but committed a traveling violation trying to figure out how to avoid another block.
At the other end, Spikes drove for a basket against UCF star Keith Clanton, giving the Herd a 65-61 lead - its first two-score advantage since 22-17.
With 1:16 left, Spikes had the team's last field goal, giving Marshall a 68-64 lead and turning the game over to his teammates at the line. Seven makes in 12 tries was enough to preserve the victory.
Actually, Spikes may have made a few if given the chance. A 46.5 percent shooter entering the game, he made five of his six tries, even hitting four in a row between his send-backs of Wilson.
Spikes finished with 11 points, four rebounds and those nine blocks. He victimized five different Knights - Sykes three times, Wilson twice, Clanton twice and Tristan Spurlock and Calvin Newell once each.
Yous Mbao came off the bench early in the first half to block three in four minutes. The Knights suffered 14 rejections, keeping their field-goal percentage down to 41.3 percent.
With that, the Herd (10-12, 3-4) snapped its three-game losing streak and ended the four-game winning streak by UCF (15-6, 5-2).
"We're tired of losing," Spikes said. "It's wearing down on us, and we're not a losing team like that. That's not our mentality, so we really stepped it up today. These guys really played big today, everybody played big - Rob [Goff], big Yous, DeVince, everybody."
The "bigs" played especially big, coach Tom Herrion thought. Spikes had his first double-figure scoring game since Dec. 1 against North Carolina-Wilmington.
"We got great production out of the 'five' today, maybe the best production I've gotten since I've been here, collectively." Herrion said. "I know everybody wants to talk about Nigel, and deservedly so, but Goff was phenomenal in the first half, and Yous was really good in the stretch he came in."
Pittman led the Herd with 20 points, but Clanton was a beast at times. The Conference USA preseason player of the year scored 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds, 16 and 7 in the first half. He scored 11 points in a stretch that turned Marshall's 22-17 lead into a 29-28 UCF edge.
UCF led 33-32 at the half and neither team led by more than three in the second half until Newell's layup made it 55-51 UCF. Pittman answered that by swerving through the Knights' defense for a three-point play with 6:30 left. Those four Spikes free throws and a blocked Wilson dunk later, Pittman shot his key 3-pointer.
At that point, most of the 5,856 fans were finally smelling victory.
D.D. Scarver scored 16 points for the Herd, and Dennis Tinnon had 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting. DeAndre Kane scored only six points on 2-of-10 shooting, but dished out 12 assists. The Herd shot a season-high 51.9 percent.
Marshall was slugged on the boards, losing the rebounding category 41-29 and allowing 21 offensive rebounds. But nine of those offensive boards were team rebounds - balls knocked out of bounds.
In fact, "team" led both squads - 11 for UCF, six for the Herd.
Newell scored 19 points, with Sykes adding 10 for the Knights. But Sykes, C-USA's reigning player of the week, was just 4 of 15 from the floor with four shots blocked. He eventually fouled out.
"Marshall did a good job. The length bothered 'Z,'" UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "Early on he got a few of his shots blocked there [on] a couple of drives to the rim. He thought he got fouled, but he didn't finish there."
The teams meet one last time Feb. 20 in Orlando. UCF is banned from postseason play and is heading off to the Big East, and the programs likely aren't going to seek each other out for scheduling.
So Wilson will have one more chance to dunk on Spikes, if he dares.
"I don't know, but I give him 'props' for that," Spikes said. "I wouldn't back down from anybody, either, but you're not going to dunk on me."
Kane jumped in and added, "Cats fight dogs, right?"
BRIEFLY: Jones, the Point Pleasant native and former Marshall coach, falls to 0-3 as a visiting coach at Cam Henderson Center. Marshall leads the series 9-6, 7-1 in Huntington. ... Tinnon and Newell drew a double technical foul in the second half. For Marshall, it was the 12th technical of the season. ... Clanton drew a technical for elbowing Pittman in the gut with 20 seconds left, then fouled out 10 seconds later. ... MU's 14 blocks is second in school history, tied with the Feb. 27, 2010 effort against UCF. Hassan Whiteside had 13 of those. ... Spikes' previous career high in blocks? Four, accomplished three times.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.