Spikes leads MU to Tulane
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University was clinging to a 63-61 lead Saturday against UCF with about three minutes to go.
UCF guard Isaiah Sykes took the basketball to the goal on Marshall center Nigel Spikes and was rejected, one of nine blocked shots by the 6-foot-10 Thundering Herd center.
Sykes got the rebound and had another chance to take it to Spikes, who had four fouls. The 6-5 Knight had second thoughts about challenging Spikes again and committed a traveling turnover instead. Marshall moved to the other end and Spikes converted the miscue with a layup that gave the Herd a four-point edge with 2:37 remaining.
That was one of many ways Spikes impacted Marshall's 75-71 men's basketball victory in Cam Henderson Center.
"Nigel was a big-time presence," said Marshall head coach Tom Herrion while also praising the contributions of Rob Goff and Yous Mbao at the center position. "I thought he was just playing with an aggressive mindset."
Marshall will need more of that from Spikes and other players on a two-game Conference USA road swing for games Wednesday at Tulane and Saturday at UAB.
Tulane (14-8, 2-5) hosts Marshall (10-12, 3-4) in an 8 p.m., Wednesday game in Devlin Fieldhouse, a renovated 79-year-old New Orleans facility formerly known as Fogleman Arena.
Fogleman is the ninth-oldest arena being used by an NCAA Division I program.
Even with the renovations and a move to the Big East Conference in 2014, the Green Wave has average attendance of only 1,834 in the 3,600-capacity building.
Marshall, however, hasn't won a road game this season and hasn't put victories back-to-back since beating Morehead State and UNC-Wilmington on Nov. 28 and Dec. 1 respectively.
"Road wins are tough," Spikes said. "People don't realize how hard it is to win in someone else's gym, but it's something we can get done.
"As a team we're all we've got so we have to be our own fans."
Tulane presents unique problems because of the spread offense head coach Ed Conroy uses, Herrion said. The Green Wave doesn't play slow, and will run when it's available, but uses the spread to create spacing on the court.
Athletic forward Josh Davis, a 6-foot-7 junior who began his career at N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference, is Tulane's top scoring weapon and ranks second in the conference with 17.1 per game. Davis leads C-USA rebounders with 9.9 a game.
Sophomore Ricky Tarrant, the 2012 C-USA Freshman of the Year and an all-conference first team selection, joined Marshall junior point guard Dre Kane on the preseason all-conference list. The 6-2 guard averages 14.8 points. Jordan Callahan, a 6-foot senior guard, is a 1,000-point career scorer getting 10.7 on average.
Tulane is second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 59.3 a game. The Green Wave plays all man-to-man defense, Herrion said.
Marshall forward Dennis Tinnon said the Herd hit New Orleans with a lot of confidence.
"We've got to focus on getting a road win," he said. "We need one real bad."
Herd forward Elijah Pittman is coming off his fifth 20-point game of the season and has a 14.8 average. Pittman is joined in double figures by Kane (14.4), guard D.D. Scarver (13.8) and Tinnon (10.4). Tinnon averages 9.0 rebounds while Spikes (5.7 points) pulls down 7.5 rebounds a game.
Kane is ranked sixth nationally with 7.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Kane and Chaz Williams of UMass are the only Division I players averaging at least 14.0 points, 7.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds.
Marshall had its best field goal percentage game of the season (51.9) against UCF and made 16 of 25 foul shots but is still last in the nation for free throw percentage at 56.8.