Spikes came through in clutch
HUNTINGTON -- Nigel Spikes sank a pair of free throws, then he made two more.
The second pair by Spikes, a 48.9 percent shooter from the foul line, put the Marshall Thundering Herd three points ahead of Rice with 2:59 left Wednesday in a Conference USA men's basketball game in Cam Henderson Center.
Marshall needed them all because Rice (5-19 season, 1-9 conference) played to the end before the Herd won, 71-70.
Spikes has made a change in his foul shooting alignment, moving his feet back off the line, and hit six of eight attempts in the game.
"That's something me and Dre (Kane) came up with," he said. "I was shooting it a little hard, so I decided to take a couple of steps back and give myself some more room."
The 6-foot-10 senior is now a 51.0 percent free throw shooter.
Spikes contributed 10 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots to the victory that put Marshall (11-14 season) at 4-6 in Conference USA and tied for seventh place with league-leading, nationally-ranked Memphis visiting for a Saturday game at 8 p.m. that's televised on the CBS Sports Network (Ch. 174 on Huntington Comcast cable).
No. 22 Memphis (21-3, 10-0) posted its 15th consecutive victory Wednesday against UCF, 93-71. Memphis defeated Marshall, 73-72, on Jan. 26 in FedExForum.
Marshall is still ranked last in NCAA Division I for free throw percentage (57.5), but shot better than that in its last four games. In Wednesday's game that neither team led by more than five, Marshall made 18 of 28 (64.3) including 11-for-15 in the second half and 10 of 11 in the final 8:47.
Spikes made four in a row during a stretch when Marshall converted nine in succession.
"We did a great job in the second half shooting 73 percent, 10 of 11 down the stretch, making them when they count," Marshall head coach Tom Herrion said. "We realize we leave way too many points on the board. We're proud of our kids. Nigel stepping up and going four-for-four, Tamron (Manning) as a freshman knocking them down were huge."
Forward Elijah Pittman, the team scoring leader with a 15.4 average, is a 68.1 percent free throw shooter, but has also adjusted his routine.
Pittman is shooting now from the far right corner of the foul line where he made five of eight against Rice.
Pittman said some of his shots were going right, so he changed the approach.
Marshall was led against the Owls by Pittman's 22 points, D.D. Scarver's 17, Dennis Tinnon's 11 and Spikes.
"It feels good. By one, by two, by half a point -- it feels good to be the ones to win," Pittman said.
Kane averages 14.3 and scored just five while attempting only three field goals, but made one of the biggest plays of the game. Kane also had 10 assists and four rebounds. He played for the entire 40 minutes for the fourth consecutive game.
Marshall led by only two when Kane converted a three-point play with a layup and a foul shot for a 70-65 edge with 34 seconds left to play. Rice head coach Ben Braun said it was a huge play by Kane who made some things happen for his team.
The one-point Memphis win over Marshall was the closest call for the Tigers in conference play where their average margin is 14.7.
Memphis guard Geron Johnson had 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists Wednesday against UCF when the Tigers pulled away early in the second half. The Tigers led by 34 with 3:22 left in the game.
Guard Joe Jackson, who leads the Tigers with a 13.9 average, scored 21 and had 10 assists.
"Memphis is good, they're very explosive and very talented," UCF head coach Donnie Jones said.