HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - With his inside players scoring whenever they got the ball, Pierria' Henry dazzled his friends, family and all watching at Cam Henderson Center in the final 20 minutes of the regular season Thursday.Henry, the 6-foot-4 junior point guard from South Charleston High, scored a season-high 26 points in Charlotte's 74-70 win over Marshall in the regular-season finale. Nineteen came in that second half.He downplayed his homecoming, but had some extra bounce he didn't always show in the 49ers' 59-56 loss to Marshall at Charlotte."I just liked his aggression," said Charlotte coach Alan Major. "At some times, he was a step ahead of everyone out there, just from the standpoint of thinking the game - even down to the underneath [inbound play], throwing the ball off someone's back and getting himself two foul shots."That has nothing to do with me as a coach, I'd tell you that. That's just a smart guy making a heady play."With that and other heady plays, Henry helped his 49ers (16-13, 7-9) slip into a tie for eighth place and earn a first-round bye in the Conference USA tournament. Marshall (10-21, 4-12) will have the 14th seed and is expected to play No. 11 Florida Atlantic at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday.While Henry had a big second half, his best work probably came with 4.9 seconds left in the first.That half featured 10 ties and eight lead changes, but Marshall blew a chance to retake the lead when DeVince Boykins missed two free throws of a three-shot foul. Major took his use-it-or-lose-it timeout and plotted the final possession.Henry made it look too easy, flying around a defender or two and advancing to about the 3-point arc, where his flipped a lob left of the rim. Mike Thorne Jr. rose up and dunked the ball just before the buzzer went off.Major said Henry had several options, as he often does."You never know you'll get a lob dunk. That's a home run," Major said. "We just wanted to get in position to get a great shot. We thought they'd press us up the floor a little bit, but fortunately Pierria' was able to catch it on the run right there in front of our bench [that was on the backcourt side]."We just try to get the ball in his hands and see if he can make a play as fast as he can. He's the fastest guy we've got."The Herd, who slowed Henry down after a torrid start at Charlotte, seemed to be caught off guard by that play."You've got a guy who's going to put up a runner or a floater, and instead we rotate up, off the backside guy for a dunk. Not good," Herrion said.That basket was the 6-foot-11 Thorne's sixth in as many tries, and he made the next two in the second half and finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. His inside mate, 6-9 Willie Clayton, also double-doubled with 15 points and 10 boards.
Thorne didn't start and played just 14 minutes in the game at Charlotte, as Major said he feared matchup problems against the smaller-but-quicker Ryan Taylor. That was the defensive challenge of the day, and the 49ers passed it - Taylor was held to seven points on 3-of-10 shooting and was hampered (again) with foul trouble.With Taylor on the bench, the Herd struggled offensively. In one fatal stretch, MU missed four 3-pointers in a row, leading to three fast-break 49er baskets - a 3-pointer and a layup by Henry and a putback by Clayton.That blew the 38-36 Charlotte lead into a 45-36 advantage, and it stayed in that ballpark much of the half. With just over five minutes left, Henry stole the ball in the backcourt after a Herd rebound and scored to give the 49ers their biggest lead, 64-53, with 5:00 left.That was enough to fend off yet another too-little, too-late MU rally, and ensure a memorable night for the 49ers' No. 15."It means a lot to me to see my family and friends in the stands," Henry said. "But as the game goes, it was just another game for us to try to get better, try to keep building momentum as we enter the conference tournament."Marshall's momentum from its win over East Carolina on Sunday sailed out of the building. Once again, the Herd failed to string together two consecutive conference wins for the first time in two years.
Herrion was critical of his team's defense, which allowed the 49ers to shoot an even 50 percent and Thorne and Clayton to go a combined 14 of 17. (Herrion made and repeated a comment about the big guys "camping in the lane.")But the fourth-year coach was much more distraught about the offense. The Herd made one fewer field goal that the 49ers (27 vs. 28) despite taking 14 more shots."We just can't keep shooting 39 percent from the floor offensively," Herrion said. "You just can't keep doing that. You put so much pressure on your defense to get every stop."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com
. Charlotte 74, Marshall 70Charlotte (16-13, 7-9)
M FG FT R A PIngram 32 4-10 0-1 3 3 9Thorne 37 8-9 2-5 10 1 18Williams 29 1-4 0-1 5 5 2Henry 34 8-16 7-8 7 4 26Clayton 33 6-8 3-4 10 2 15Lester 9 0-5 0-0 1 1 0Cherry 17 1-2 1-2 0 0 4Bryan 9 0-2 0-0 3 0 0TEAM 4 Totals 200 28-56 13-21 43 16 74Marshall (10-21, 4-12) M FG FT R A P
Smith 19 2-6 0-0 2 1 5Canty 38 8-21 2-2 3 7 22Thomas 34 6-17 3-5 9 0 17Taylor 25 3-10 1-2 8 1 7Mbao 5 0-0 0-0 0 0 0Sane 21 3-4 0-0 4 0 6Boykins 17 1-3 1-3 3 2 3Goard 21 3-6 0-0 3 1 6Manning 20 1-3 1-2 2 0 4TEAM 4 Totals 200 27-70 8-14 38 12 70 Halftime: Charlotte 34-31. 3-point goals: Chalotte 5-18 (Ingram 1-5, Williams 0-2, Henry 3-7, Lester 0-3, Cherry 1-1), Marshall 8-23 (Smith 1-2, Canty 4-9, Thomas 2-5, Taylor 0-3, Boykins 0-1, Manning 1-3). Fouled out: Charlotte (Clayton). Technical fouls: Charlotte (Clayton), Marshall (Sane). Attendance: 4,944.C-USA tourney pairingsAt Don Haskins Center, El Paso, TexasAll times EasternFIRST ROUNDTuesdayNo. 10 North Texas (15-15, 6-10) vs. No. 15 Rice (7-22, 2-14), 5:30 p.m.No. 11 Florida Atlantic (10-21, 5-11) vs. No. 14 Marshall (10-21, 4-12), 8 p.m.No. 12 East Carolina (16-15, 5-11) vs. No. 13 Texas-San Antonio (8-21, 4-12)SECOND ROUNDWednesdayNo. 7 Tulane (16-15, 8-8) vs. North Texas-Rice winner, 2 p.m.No. 6 Old Dominion (15-15, 9-7) vs. FAU-Marshall winner, 4:30 p.m.No. 5 Texas-El Paso (22-9, 12-4) vs. ECU/UTSA winner, 8 p.m.No. 8 Alabama-Birmingham (18-12, 7-9) vs. No. 9 Charlotte (16-13, 7-9), 10:30 p.m.QUARTERFINALSThursdayNo. 2 Tulsa (18-12, 13-3) vs. Tulane/North Texas/Rice, 2 p.m.No. 3 Middle Tennessee (23-8, 13-3) vs. ODU/FAU/Marshall, 4:30 p.m.No. 4 Southern Mississippi (26-5, 13-3) vs. UTEP/ECU/UTSA, 8 p.m.No. 1 Louisiana Tech (25-6, 13-3) vs. UAB-Charlotte winner, 10:30 p.m.SEMIFINALSFriday4 p.m, 6:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)CHAMPIONSHIPSaturday11:35 a.m. (CBS)