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Herd feels frustration

MU hoops
Mar. 17, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

TULSA, Okla. -- It was supposed to be Marshall and Memphis playing Saturday for the Conference USA men's basketball championship.

Nearly everyone thought so in the preseason.

Memphis made it, and won a championship game thriller against Southern Miss, 91-79, in double overtime in the BOK Center.

Where was Marshall?

At home, presumably watching on TV -- or maybe the CBS telecast was too painful to watch -- after being bounced from the tournament Wednesday in the first round by Tulane, 66-64.

"Just a bittersweet ending to a frustrating season to say the least," Marshall head coach Tom Herrion said.

Lots of tears were shed by players in the Marshall locker room after the season-ending defeat.

Herrion took Dre Kane and Dennis Tinnon along for the post-game press conference and they answered questions thrown at them, but the pain was obvious.

Nigel Spikes sat on a bench about 30 minutes after the game, fighting back the tears and slowly taking off his Thundering Herd uniform for the final time.

Spikes, one of three departing seniors on the team, spoke quietly as he offered some advice for players coming back next season.

"Just learn from this year," he said. "Move forward. Get better."

Marshall ended with a 13-19 overall record in its first losing season since 2008-09 and was tied for ninth place in C-USA at 6-10. A season that began with high expectations coming off a 2012 National Invitation Tournament appearance ended with great disappointment.

The Herd had some big victories along the way, but also some huge defeats, and didn't ever really get it together for an extended amount of time.

If one word describes the season as a whole it would be "inconsistency." Marshall lost three of its first four games in the early-season 2K Sports Classic then won three in a row from November into December, but didn't put wins back-to-back again.

Many times the Herd would fall behind by sizable margins in games and rally to make them closer.

"Always piecing it together too late," said senior Rob Goff.

In its C-USA tournament game with Tulane the Herd played superb defense and was efficient with the basketball to pull away by 13 points with 12:15 left to play. The Green Wave got it together and roared from behind.

Kane's drive for a basket put Marshall ahead, 49-47, with 6:52 remaining and the lead changed hands eight times before it was tied, 63-63, with 1:02 to go. Tulane won on Ricky Tarrant's shot-clock beating 3-point heave from about 25 feet away that banked in with 6.9 seconds left.

"I think we just stopped playing defense," Spikes said. "They started making shots."

Marshall has some areas that need addressed for next season, better shooting and improved defense among them. The Herd was 10th in the 12-team conference for field goal percentage (42.7), last in 3-point field goal percentage (30.7) and last in free throw percentage (59.8). The Herd defense allowed 72.7 points a game, which was 11th in the conference.

Turnovers were another problem with Marshall committing a league-high 15.8 per game. Marshall was also outrebounded in 17 games.

The team lost five times at home (10-5) and had only one true road win -- a Feb. 20 game at UCF. Home game attendance in Cam Henderson Center fell off by 563 from the 2011-12 season to an average of 5,587 per game.

Several things Marshall couldn't control contributed to the frustration:

N Nov. 15 -- Freshman Kareem Canty's initial eligibility was struck down by the NCAA, leaving the team without a true point guard. Kane moved over from shooting guard to fill the void.

N Nov. 20 - Goff and Yous Mbao collided in a practice drill and suffered head injuries. Goff missed two games. Mbao was out for 10 games.

N Dec. 10 - Kane broke a bone in his hand and sat out for games. Marshall was 1-3 in his absence.

N Jan. 7 - Freshman guard Kelvin Amayo, who became eligible at semester break, quit the team after playing in four games.

Marshall has to replace its three seniors. Tinnon averaged 10.5 points and was third in the conference for rebounds at 9.1. Tinnon's 641 rebounds in two seasons are 19th in school history. Spikes (5.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocked shots) finished his career sixth in Herd records with 123 blocks. Goff averaged 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Chris Martin elected to leave the team after the spring semester. He scored 3.1 points in 23 game appearances.

Kane, an All-CUSA second team selection, has another year of eligibility, but indicated he might choose to use it at another school. Kane said he would discuss the future with Herrion and his family before making any decisions. He was second on the team in scoring (15.1) and led the conference with 7.0 assists.

Junior forward Elijah Pittman's 16.1 scoring average was seventh in the league and he made 37.1 percent of his 3-point attempts. Junior guard D.D. Scarver (11/9) shot 32.7 percent on 3-pointers.

Other players expected to return are sophomore forward Jamir Hanner, freshman guard Tamron Manning, redshirt freshman guard DeVince Boykins, sophomore center J.P. Kambola and Mbao, a 7-foot-2 junior.

Manning, who was in the starting lineup five games, and Boykins both received more playing time late in the season.

Canty was joined by 6-6 forward Ryan Taylor sitting out this season as academically ineligible freshmen. Sophomore TyQuane Goard, a 6-7 forward from Charleston, also sat out as a transfer from Ohio University.

Marshall signed 6-6 guard Shawn Smith from City College of San Francisco in November and has a verbal commitment from 6-4 guard Justin Edmonds at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio, for the spring signing period. Herrion has said he's looking for big men to complete the recruiting class.

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