HUNTINGTON — The Marshall men’s basketball team had hoped to generate some momentum in its regular season finale Thursday night against Charlotte. The Thundering Herd instead made history, none of which it wanted to make.
With its 74-70 loss to the 49ers at the Henderson Center, the Herd has lost 40 games over its last two seasons, the largest two-year loss total in program history. Led by former South Charleston star Pierria Henry’s 26 points, Charlotte kept the Herd (10-21, 4-12 Conference USA) from winning back-to-back games yet again. Marshall hasn’t accomplished that feat since late November.
Marshall let the 49ers shoot 50 percent from the floor (28 of 56) for the game while shooting just 38.6 percent from the floor (27 of 70), 34.8 from 3-point range (8 of 23) and 57.1 percent from the free throw line (8 of 14).
“We just can’t keep shooting 39 percent from the floor offensively,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. “You can’t keep doing that. You put so much pressure on your defense to get every stop. It’s just really, really painful.
“Our offense was just as big a factor in losing the game tonight as our defense was,” he added.
The Herd now prepares for next week’s C-USA Tournament on a down note. Marshall enters the tournament as the 14th seed. It finished tied with the University of Texas at San Antonio in the conference standings, but UTSA beat Marshall on Jan. 9 to own the tiebreaker.
That gives the Herd the 11th seed as its opening round opponent Tuesday in El Paso. That should be Florida Atlantic, who finished tied with East Carolina at 5-11 in conference, but beat the Pirates on Jan. 16. The game time will be announced later.
A late Marshall rally cut what was a 12-point Charlotte lead with 3:05 left in the game to a 73-70 lead with eight seconds left on a Kareem Canty layup. Canty led the Herd with 22 points. Yet the Herd was unable to come any closer in the final seconds.
A Herd scoring slump early in the second half didn’t help matters. A Chris Thomas free throw cut Charlotte’s lead to 38-36 with 17:39 left, but Marshall missed 3-pointers on each of its next four possessions, as the Niners (16-13, 7-9 C-USA) stretched the lead to 36-45 with 15:34 left.
“For some reason, I don’t know why we wait until the last seven minutes of the game to play,” Canty said. “That’s just something we’ve got to work on come tournament time, or we’ll be home quick.”
Meanwhile, Henry rebounded from his relatively quiet seven-point first half to finish with a season high in scoring. The junior went 6 for 12 in the second half, hitting two 3-pointers and making 5 of 6 free throws. He added seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
“It was just playing ball and letting the game come to me,” Henry said of his second-half surge. “The flow of the game in the first half seemed a little slow to me. But as we started to get stops and started running in transition, it helped our momentum and helped our flow of the game and helped me get a lot of open lanes.”
The Herd and Niners traded blows for the entire first half, going through eight ties and 10 lead changes in the first 20 minutes. Neither team led by more than Charlotte’s four-point edge with 14:10 left in the half.
Both teams spent that 20-minute span searching for answers for one member of the other roster. For Charlotte, it was Chris Thomas. For Marshall, it was Mike Thorne Jr. Thomas, who scored 18 points versus Charlotte in their Feb. 15 game, knifed through the Niners defense for layups and also was effective from 3-point range. The speedy 6-foot-5 guard finished the half with 12 points, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, and six rebounds.
Thorne, Charlotte’s 6-11, 257-pound center, controlled the low post. He made all six of his first-half shots for 14 points and pulled down six rebounds. Thorne didn’t start the first Marshall-Charlotte tilt, scoring seven points off the bench in that February game.
The Herd had a chance to go into halftime with a one-point lead, but a defensive breakdown dashed those hopes. DeVince Boykins was fouled on a 3-point attempt with about four seconds left and the Herd down 32-30. He could make just one of three free throws. Charlotte called a time out and, on the inbounds pass, got the ball to Henry, who sprinted down the court.
Henry slowed at the 3-point line and lofted an alley-oop to Thorne, who dunked it with time running out to give Charlotte a 34-31 halftime lead.
“We left the guy we shouldn’t have left,” Herrion said. “To give up a dunk to end the half is just a poor job, defensively, in that situation.”
Thomas finished the game with 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Canty dished seven assists, while Ryan Taylor added seven points and eight rebounds while spending most of the game in foul trouble. Thorne finished with 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds, while Willie Clayton finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 10 rebounds.
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.