Herd squanders big lead, falls at Morehead State
MOREHEAD, Ky. - After playing 20 generally fantastic minutes Sunday afternoon at Morehead State, Marshall couldn't throw the game away any more spectacularly.
The Herd led by 21 points late in the first half but gave it all back in the second half in a barrage of fouls, turnovers and inadequate defense. When DeVince Boykins missed two free throws with 1.1 seconds left - the last on an airball - the game went to overtime.
In those five minutes, the Eagles hit all 14 free throws to steal a 102-94 win over the Thundering Herd at Ellis T. Johnson Arena. A blue-and-green audience of 3,506 attended, with the blue-clad side seeming to multiply as the game wore on.
"Wore" was the operative word for coach Tom Herrion's troops, who committed 20 second-half fouls, put Morehead on the foul line 65 times, squandered a 10-rebound advantage and gave up nine steals after halftime.
Elijah Pittman scored 31 points and Kareem Canty 19, but that wasn't nearly enough. Canty had nine assists, but also had nine turnovers.
For Canty and his fellow newcomers, this game offered a harsh lesson in playing on the road.
"Frustrating, painful loss for our group," Herrion said. "We played so well for the first 20 minutes or so, and they kind of flipped the switch, drove it hard, spread it out. We did such a bad job guarding the ball and let them live on the foul line.
"Didn't make a lot of plays down the stretch for a lot of different reasons at a lot of different positions, and let it slip away from us."
The Herd (2-1) entered halftime ahead 48-33, with Morehead (3-1) in a heap of foul trouble - two players with four fouls and three with three. The Eagles were as over-aggressive as they were in a 70-67 loss last year, allowing the Herd to attempt 27 free throws and hit 21.
The Eagles began chipping away almost immediately in the second half, going on a 13-2 run to make it 53-46, punctuated by a high-octane fastbreak basket by Kareem Storey. With the half not even four minutes old, the Herd had five team fouls to the Eagles' zero.
"We came out in the second half like we had mud on the bottom of our feet," Pittman said. "The just drove us to death, attacked the rim and it led to the refs calling a foul."
That theme continued throughout the half, but Morehead didn't make the Herd pay immediately. In fact, the Eagles missed eight straight free throws down the stretch, allowing MU to hold onto an 85-79 lead with 44.3 seconds left.
On that last of those, by Luka Pajkovic, the Herd's trouble began in earnest. Pittman brought down the rebound, but Pajkovic swiped the ball from Chris Thomas on the breakout and quickly hit a 3-pointer to make it 85-82 with 38 seconds left.
After Morehead coach Sean Woods called his final timeout, big man Chad Postumus crunched Thomas as they went for a long pass, putting Thomas on the line with 21 seconds left. Thomas hit the first but missed the second, and Pajkovic drove for a layup nine seconds later to make it 86-84.
As Canty brought the ball upcourt against the press, he had the ball poked out from behind. Bakari Turner missed the layup, but Posthumus got the rebound and was fouled by Thomas with 14 seconds left. Posthumus, who had 14 points and 15 rebounds, hit both to tie it at 86.
Marshall's final play went smoothly. Canty drove to draw in the defense, tossed to Tamron Manning, who threw to Boykins on the left baseline. Boykins was fouled by Brent Arrington with 1.1 seconds left, giving him two shots at a probable victory.
The first shot was well short and the second was even shorter, missing the rim altogether and triggering overtime.
When Angelo Warner hit two free throws with 2:21 left in the extra period, the Eagles took a 94-92 lead, their first since a 9-8 advantage. When Thomas hit just one of two free throws for the Herd and Posthumus hit two for a 96-93 lead, the knockout punch was coming.
It came when Manning fired a lousy 3-pointer from the corner. Thomas hustled to tie up Posthumus, but the possession arrow favored Morehead. Then Arrington put the game away, floating over Pittman for a layup that made it 98-93.
Pittman couldn't do much, lest he join five teammates with five fouls. Only six players were available by then, with Pittman and two others with four fouls.
Morehead outscored MU 41-24 in bench points, 18-8 on the fast break, 21-3 in second-chance points, 42-34 in the paint and 32-13 off turnovers.
The turnover number got more painful as the game progressed. Canty had trouble dealing with Arrington in the final minute of the first half, which was a signal of things to come.
"He's a guard who likes to create space and shoot fadeaway jump shots, and hit some big ones," Woods said. "So we just started switching, hedging hard and getting over the screen more aggressively to make sure he had tough ones to take.
"We thought he's been careless with the basketball as of late, so we just wanted to rush him and make him make plays all the time. It kind of worked out for us."
Herrion never likes seeing 26 turnovers, but he was much more disappointed in the defensive effort and Morehead's 14 offensive rebounds after halftime. He defended Canty on one point - Canty played 41 minutes, never coming out after halftime.
"I thought there were a lot of fatigue turnovers for him," Herrion said. "Too many minutes, but we were 'scrambled eggs.' We had guys playing different spots they hadn't [practiced]. No excuse - can't have nine turnovers on the road as a point guard.
"But he played too many minutes this afternoon."
Arrington and Turner led Morehead with 24 points apiece, going a combined 17 of 29 from the line. The Eagles finished 40 of 65 from the stripe to 29 of 43 for Marshall.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.