Herd set for 2nd chance vs. Memphis
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - In the standings ledger, it counts the same for Marshall as all those other road losses, including that 56-point humiliation at Southern Mississippi.
But it's crazy to compare the Thundering Herd's 73-72 loss to Memphis on Jan. 26 to the Southern Miss game, which came three days earlier. In an "0-for" road season, the game at Memphis represents the Herd's best effort.
Three weeks later, the most practical application comes in the form of confidence, which the Herd should have when the 22nd-ranked Tigers come calling Saturday night. Tipoff is at 8 p.m., with the game airing on CBS Sports Network.
"We battled, went toe-to-toe and had the ball in our hands with a chance to win," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "On the road against a terrific team like that, that's what you ask for. Nonetheless we didn't get the job done; that disappoints us."
The Herd's last chance to seize the lead against Memphis came down to a 3-point try by Elijah Pittman that fell short of the rim, possibly blocked by the Tigers' D.J. Stephens. Chris Crawford made two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to give Memphis a 73-69 lead, enough to withstand DeAndre Kane's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The contest also serves as the Tigers' closest brush with defeat in their current 15-game winning streak, dating back to a Dec. 15 loss to Louisville. Their 93-71 win Wednesday night over Central Florida certainly wasn't that close, as the Tigers blew the game open in the second half.
That result came three days after Memphis (21-3 overall, 10-0 Conference USA) won at second-place Southern Miss 89-76, another impressive result. Games like those have propelled the Tigers, 17th in the preseason Associated Press poll, back into the Top 25.
"Now they're older. They're one of the most experienced teams in the conference," Herrion said. "And it's evidenced by their play."
Jackson, one of several third-year veterans, leads the team with 13.9 points per game. That's just 14th in C-USA, but he is in the top 10 in 3-point percentage (second .491), assists (fifth, 4.8), field-goal percentage (sixth, .544), assist-to-turnover ratio (sixth, 1.69), steals and free-throw percentage (seventh, 1.71).
Tarik Black, who is coming off the bench for Memphis these days, leads the league by a large margin in field-goal percentage at .611. Junior-college transfer Geron Johnson is the reigning league player of the week after averaging 22 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in wins over Southern Methodist and Southern Miss.
Kane has held onto the league leadership in assists and beefed up the margin with his 10 in the Herd's 71-70 win over Rice on Wednesday. He now averages 7.33, well above the 6.43 by East Carolina's Miguel Paul.
He was no threat for a double-double, though, as he took only three shots from the floor. His five points did include a critical three-point play in the final minute.
The three field-goal attempts were the fewest in his college career. As a lifetime scorer who isn't always shy about shooting, Kane said he can't remember when he had only three shots in a game.
"Maybe when I first played the game [and] I couldn't get it to touch the rim," he joked. "But I was trying to get my teammates involved early. I know when we need a bucket or something I can get my own shot off."
Kane, who has played all 40 minutes for five straight games, also leads the league in minutes played (36.86 per game).
The Herd is no threat to escape the league cellar in free-throw shooting, where it sits at .575. Let's put it this way: MU would have to sink the next 118 in a row to reach the .641 of 11th-place UCF.
A more reasonable goal is to escape the Division I basement in the category, and is giving it a good run after a 10-of-11 closing stretch Wednesday. Through last weekend's games, the Herd was at .571, behind No. 344 Morgan State (.577).
The season-long funk had players searching for adjustments. Pittman moved toward the right "elbow," while Nigel Spikes has stepped back from the stripe a foot.
It seems to be working. Spikes went 6 of 8 Wednesday and is 12 of 16 over his last four games, putting him above .500 for the season.
"It's something me and [Kane] came up with," Spikes said. "I was shooting it too hard, so I decided to take a couple of steps back, give myself a little more room. It's helped out a lot."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.