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Chuck Landon: Defense got stops when it mattered

Feb. 12, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Defense?

What defense?

For 36:12 of Marshall's 40-minute game against East Carolina Saturday night in the Henderson Center, there wasn't any.

The Pirates shot a sizzling 57.1 percent from the floor by hitting 12 of 21 shots, yet still trailed, 36-35, at halftime because Marshall connected on 14 of 26 shots.

Second half?

More of the same.

East Carolina made exactly half of its shots -- 11 of 22 -- while Marshall shot 54.2 percent from the floor (13 of 24). For the game, the Pirates turned in a smokin' hot field goal percentage of 53.5 only to see Marshall out-shoot them by nailing 27 of 50 shots (54.0 percent -- a season high.

The defense couldn't have rested more distinctively if the game had been played at the West Virginia Supreme Court instead of the court in the Henderson Center.

Except for a span of 3:48, that is.

And that's what this offensive free-for-all, this all-skate, everybody skate, actually was all about. Forget those 36 minutes and 12 seconds of offense. It was the three minutes and 48 seconds of Marshall defense that mattered.

In fact, that span is all that mattered.

That's what decided this must-win game for Marshall. That's how the Herd ended a two-game losing streak. That's why Marshall defeated East Carolina, 78-68, Saturday night before a thoroughly entertained crowd of 6,447 fans.

What made that span so special?

Let's defer to Tom Herrion.

"It was the only time in the game when we got consistent stops," said Marshall's second-year coach.

Indeed.

After surprising true freshman Chris Martin swished his third 3-pointer of the game from the right corner with 9:50 remaining to give Marshall a 54-52 lead, East Carolina came unraveled.

Marshall's previously porous defense suddenly turned tenacious, creating steals, blocking shots and keeping East Carolina's offense from penetrating or getting the ball inside to post players.

Suddenly, the Herd blew this see-saw game wide open with a defense-generated 11-0 run during a 2:36 span. Then, just to put the game further out of reach, Marshall expanded that 11-0 streak into a 16-1 run during the next 1:12.

That's how a 52-51 deficit became a 67-53 Marshall lead with 6:02 remaining.

Game, set, 15th win of the season.

"We were getting stops during that period of time," said senior point guard Damier Pitts. "We're a transition offense. That allowed us to get out and run."

And, most important, spread the floor.

The result was a quartet of 3-pointers from four different players -- Martin, Pitts, Shaq Johnson and Dago Pena.

"Marshall obviously shot it very well," said East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo. "They came into the game as the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, but made 10 of 20. And they had some unexpected guys make threes, like (Jamir) Hanner and Martin."

That's true.

But the reason for those 3-pointers and that game-deciding 16-1 run was defense.

"We buckled down and got some stops," said Pitts, who scored five of his game-high 27 points during that span. "And that expanded the lead."

That's an understatement.

Those few moments of defense gave Marshall the lead, expanded the margin decidedly and produced a much-needed win.

"We needed a win badly," admitted Herrion.

And, now, the Herd needs to rest just as badly.

"We need to exhale right now," he said.

Precisely.

Because next time, a mere 3:48 of defense might not be enough.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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