HUNTINGTON — Conference USA is not a 6-foot-5-and-under league.
It just looked that way when Western Kentucky came out of their locker room in the Cam Henderson Center Wednesday night.
Perhaps that’s because the Hilltoppers’ starting lineup included players standing 6-1, 6-2, 6-5, 6-5 and 6-6.
It was Lilliputian by today’s standards.
That’s why the first half was so predictable.
Marshall pounded the ball inside to 6-9, 299-pound Iran Bennett and the redshirt sophomore dominated. He finished the half with 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the floor and 4 of 6 at the foul line, along with three rebounds, two blocks, one steal and an assist.
And when Bennett wasn’t pounded Western Kentucky in the paint, 7-0 true freshman Goran Miladinovic was. He contributed eight points on 4-of-6 shooting with three rebounds in the first half.
So, at the half, Marshall’s center position had hammered the Hilltoppers for 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting with six boards.
Is it any wonder Marshall was winning 39-25 at halftime?
That’s what made the second half so incredibly incomprehensible. Marshall quit doing everything that had given the Thundering Herd a 14-point halftime lead.
MU quit pounding the ball inside. The Herd quit slowing down the pace. Marshall quit doing everything that had worked in the first half.
Bennett is a prime example. In the second half, he was only two of three from the floor with four points, one rebound and three blocked shots.
So, what did Marshall do instead of getting the ball inside? Shoot 3-pointers. And shoot ‘em and shoot ‘em and shoot ‘em. After shooting 3 of 6 from 3-point range in the first half, Marshall played bombs away in the second half with a horrific 3-for-13 performance.
The results were predictable.
Western Kentucky outscored Marshall by an appalling 39-21 margin during the second half and won going away, 64-60, before 5,612 stunned fans in the Henderson Center.
And here’s the worst part.
During Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury’s postgame press conference he said, “We really didn’t do anything differently.”
That means Marshall’s woeful second-half performance was self-induced.
To his credit, MU junior point guard Jarrod West owned up to that. When asked if Western Kentucky made it tougher to get the ball inside during the second half, West answered, “No. That was us in a nutshell there. That was right there. It’s just not good.
“It’s not like they changed anything in the second half. We have to be better. I think we just made too many mistakes.”
And then some.
Marshall finished with 21 turnovers, with 12 occurring in the second half.
It was one of the most inexplicable turnarounds anyone ever could witness.
“I think you saw us at our best and at our not so good,” said a somber Danny D’Antoni, Marshall head coach. “I don’t know how you lose games like that, but it happens.
“We have to figure out why we had so much trouble getting the ball inside in the second half. Most of it was just bad decision-making out of us. I thought we played a lot more freer against the press in the first half.”
Meanwhile, West was still trying to make some sense of it all.
“In the second half,” he said, “we didn’t do anything we were supposed to do.”
There was no excuse for losing this game.