HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Late-game situations haven't been the Marshall men's basketball team's strong suit this season. For Thundering Herd coach Tom Herrion's fleet of young and inexperienced players, rallies have fallen short and late leads have not been safe.The Herd broke that trend in Sunday afternoon's 64-61 win over East Carolina, succeeding with the ball in its hands in the final seconds. Before crediting any play or player, freshman forward Ryan Taylor tipped his cap to an intangible."Composure," Taylor said. "Staying within us and keeping our composure."That composure was in danger of disappearing in the final 11 minutes of Sunday's first half. Marshall's 13-point lead became an 11-point halftime hole after East Carolina screamed into intermission by outscoring the Herd 34-10 in that span.
During that halftime, Herrion said he subjected his team to some straight talk, rather than explode over Marshall's late-half collapse."This group, we're so fragile," Herrion said. "It was counseled aggressively. Paint, I don't think, was flying off the wall, but I was really direct with them."Taylor said he and his teammates weren't ready to throw in the towel after ECU's burst. They knew that, even when they led the Pirates 20-7, plenty of time remained for East Carolina to rally. And there also was plenty of time for the Herd to answer that rally."When they went on their run," Taylor said, "we just said we can go back on their run, just stay calm and just play our game.
"Games like that aren't going to be won off of that first big run or a team makes another big run," he added. "So we just stayed calm and played heady basketball, played our basketball and came out with the win."Marshall opened the second half with a 16-0 run to pull ahead once again. ECU struck back to lead with less than a minute to go, but Marshall's fortunes swung in a couple of places in those last seconds. The Herd hasn't done so well scoring around the basket this season, with many layups and close jumpers missing the mark. Yet Taylor's strong finish with 10 seconds to go - and the free throw that came from ECU's foul on that shot - gave the Herd a 62-61 lead.The Herd reversed another trend on the other end a few seconds later. Marshall's spirits have been shredded more than once on late 3-pointers, the last coming in its home loss to Middle Tennessee, when Jaqawn Raymond hit a 3 with 19 seconds left to win the game. On Sunday, though, Chris Thomas wouldn't let that happen. He fought through two screens to get a piece of a 3 from Akeem Richmond, the NCAA's leading 3-point shooter, and preserve the win.Herrion said one of the few benefits of experiencing those heartbreakers is learning how to overcome them."I think they're playing with much more poise," Herrion said. "You name a situation, we've been in it. A bunch of them have gone the other way." Taylor said living through disappointment helped his team eliminate it against the Pirates. That's not something he feels the Herd was ready to do in previous games this year."I think if we were in this game earlier in this season, we would have lost it after their first run," Taylor said. "We would have been down on ourselves and couldn't come back. We've been in so many close games, we've learned how to get out of those games with a win."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.