Lead vs. Pirates could prove perilous
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall's Thundering Herd can't take any lead for granted Saturday in its men's basketball game with East Carolina.
The Pirates might get down, but they're never out.
Houston had East Carolina down Wednesday night. Then the Pirates, who missed their first 13 shot attempts from 3-point distance, sank eight of their final 11 to overcome a 10-point deficit and win, 89-78.
Last weekend UCF had a 17-point lead at East Carolina early in the second half. The Pirates went 6-for-10 on 3-point shots down the stretch and pulled out an 88-85 overtime victory on a Corvonn Gaines long jump shot with three seconds to go.
"The way they play, they're never out of a game," Marshall head coach Tom Herrion said.
East Carolina, 11-5 overall with four victories against NCAA Division III and NAIA teams and 2-1 in Conference USA, visits Marshall (8-9, 1-1) for a 7 p.m. clash in Cam Henderson Center.
General admission tickets are $15, but anyone who buys one for $18 wins if Marshall wins. If Marshall wins, the $18 ticket can be redeemed for a free general admission ticket for every home game until the Herd loses at home. Also, anyone can present a ticket for the East Carolina game at the Marshall Recreation Center and receive a one-day guest pass that is good from Sunday to Feb. 3.
Some things in C-USA don't ever seem to change -- Memphis is off to a 3-0 start in league play -- while other teams bounce each other around in scenarios such as Marshall winning at home against Tulsa, Marshall losing at UTEP and Tulsa getting a home win against UTEP.
"You just have to worry about your own business," Herrion said. "Our focus is solely on Saturday night and East Carolina."
High-scoring East Carolina is Marshall's immediate concern.
East Carolina leads the conference with a 78.8 scoring average and has the league's top individual scorer, 6-foot-8 senior forward Maurice Kemp hitting for 18.3 per game. Kemp had 30 Wednesday in the win over Houston. He's also averaging 8.4 rebounds.
Miguel Paul, the East Carolina senior point guard, adds 12.2 points and 5.7 assists as the set-up man for an offense that reached 80 points four times in its last five games. Robert Sampson, a 6-8 junior forward, contributes 9.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game while 6-8 Auburn transfer Ty Armstrong provides some punch inside with a 7.6 scoring average.
Potent 3-point shooters for the Pirates include Akeem Richmond (39-for-92) and Shamarr Bowden (27-for-72).
The Pirates have attempted and made more 3-pointers than any C-USA team.
"Maybe the best 3-point shooting team in the conference," Herrion said. "They make challenged, tough shots."
Before putting up 89 and 88 points in its last two games at home, East Carolina was held to 54 in a 13-point defeat at Memphis. The Tigers held Kemp in check (11 points), limited the Pirates to 39.1 percent shooting, forced 18 turnovers and had heavy advantages on points in the paint and second-chance points.
Marshall will use a similar game plan.
"We've got to run good offense," Herrion said. "We can't have costly turnovers, indefensible turnovers. We have to get good shots, get up on the rim, get second chances. ... and guard."
Junior forward Elijah Pittman (14.5), all-conference junior guard Dre Kane (14.1), junior wing guard D.D. Scarver (14.0) and senior forward Dennis Tinnon (10.9) lead Marshall, which is scoring 69.3 points a game.
Kane leads C-USA players and is fifth in the nation with 7.6 assists a game.
Marshall is ranked 18th nationally with 40.6 rebounds per game, led by Tinnon (9.0) and senior center Nigel Spikes (8.4).
Neither team has distinguished itself defensively. East Carolina is ranked 10th, allowing an average of 69.6 points. Marshall is 11th at 69.9.
Free throw shooting could become a factor. The Pirates make 69.2 percent and the Herd 58.8 percent.