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Hot UCF next for ice-cold Herd

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall's Thundering Herd picked up the pieces again Thursday.

A Wednesday men's basketball loss to SMU, which defeated Marshall for the first time in nine tries, left the Thundering Herd with a 9-12 season record and tied with Tulane for seventh place in Conference USA at 2-4 with 10 games left in the regular season.

Marshall didn't shoot well, didn't defend well and didn't rebound well against an SMU (12-10, 2-5) team that played zone defense and controlled tempo with a time-consuming offense in a 68-57 triumph before a Cam Henderson Center crowd of 5,407 spectators.

SMU's zone stalled the Marshall offense, but head coach Tom Herrion was more disappointed with the defensive performance.

The Mustangs led 35-23 at halftime and junior guard Dre Kane said Herrion's instructions were to come out with fire in the second half, to rebound and to work on defense.

"We didn't pick it up," Kane said. "We stayed at the same pace."

Marshall rides a three-game losing skid into a 2 p.m., Saturday, home game against third-place UCF (15-5, 5-1), one of the hottest teams in the conference with consecutive wins over Tulane (Wednesday, 58-50), SMU (74-65), Rice and Houston.

The Herd had a lengthy video session before practice Thursday.

"We've got a lot of problems," Herrion said. "We have to address them, correct them and try to find solutions."

UCF's only blemish in conference play was an 88-85 overtime loss at East Carolina on a Corvonn Gaines 3-point shot just before the final buzzer.

The Saturday telecast on CSS (Huntington cable Ch. 68) features the return of UCF head coach Donnie Jones for the final time before the Knights leave for the Big East Conference. Jones was Marshall's head coach for three seasons from 2008-10.

Keith Clanton, a 6-foot-9 senior forward named as the conference preseason player of the year is leading the Knights with averages of 16.2 points and 9.4 rebounds. Isaiah Sykes is a 6-5 junior guard with four consecutive 20-point games and a 15.9 average.

"They're playing really well," Herrion said. "Clanton is really good. Sykes may be a (C-USA) player of the year candidate at this point, along with Clanton."

UCF was banned from postseason play, including the conference tournament, because of NCAA recruiting violations, leaving the Knights to play for the C-USA regular season title.

Marshall has problems of its own to sort out, starting on defense where it is giving up 70.9 points per game.

Then, there's the Marshall offense. Although Marshall has four of the league's top 30 scorers -- Kane (14.9), Elijah Pittman (14.5), D.D. Scarver (13.7) and Dennis Tinnon (10.3) -- .the Herd is averaging 68.1 a game.

Scarver is the best free throw shooter (80.6 percent) on a team ranked last in the nation at 56.5 percent.

Tinnon and Nigel Spikes average 9.2 and 7.7 rebounds respectively for the Herd, which ranks 24th nationally with 39.5 a game.

Marshall's season rebounding margin is down to plus-3.3 a game after SMU posted a six-rebound advantage.

"Every time we lose the rebound margin we lose the game," Kane said.

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