Herd sharpened focus
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University's basketball team lost big Saturday at Houston and came home for a Sunday practice in the Gullickson Hall gym.
Head coach Tom Herrion said he knew right then that the Thundering Herd men would bounce back.
"We had great focus," Herrion said.
Teams usually play like they practice, and Marshall carried that focus into Tuesday's 88-84 victory over Southern Miss in Cam Henderson Center.
Marshall, 13-17 for the season, is 6-9 in Conference USA with one regular season game remaining Saturday at East Carolina (17-11, 8-7). Marshall beat the Pirates at home, 77-56, on Jan. 19.
The Thundering Herd probably won't know its final finish and seeding for the C-USA tournament until Saturday night. Tournament games begin Wednesday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., with the top five teams receiving first-round byes.
East Carolina secured one of the byes Wednesday at home with an 88-85 win over Tulane.
Regular-season winner Memphis is the No. 1 seed and second-place Southern Miss (22-8, 11-4) is seeded No. 2 with a bye, but might have lost its chance at an NCAA tournament at-large bid if it doesn't earn the C-USA automatic berth as the conference tournament champion.
The Golden Eagles dropped seven spots to No. 41 in the unofficial RPI ratings. Marshall jumped from No. 214 to No. 196.
Marshall had its best shooting performance of the season at 55.1 percent on field goal attempts and recorded assists on 20 of its 27 baskets.
The Herd made half of its 3-point tries at 10-for-20.
And, Marshall no longer ranks last in the nation for free throw shooting after sinking 24 of 31 for 77.4 percent.
"We had two stretches -- one in the first half, one in the second half -- where we got sloppy and careless with the ball," Herrion said. "Minus that, I thought offensively we were as good as we've been all year."
Scoring came from Elijah Pittman's 22 points, D.D. Scarver's 19 and Tamron Manning's 12 while Dre Kane hit for nine and the junior moved past Cebe Price and Bob Koontz into 15th place all-time at Marshall with 1,454 career points.
Senior Night recognition preceded the game for Rob Goff, Nigel Spikes and Dennis Tinnon.
Goff matched his season high with eight points in the first four minutes. Spikes had seven points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. Tinnon scored five and grabbed five rebounds.
Jamir Hanner provided four points from off the bench and Yous Mbao scored for the first time since November.
"We got contributions from a lot of different guys and you have to have that against a good club like that," Herrion said.
Southern Miss guard Dwayne Davis pumped in 35 points. Forward Jonathan Mills added 13 and guard Jerrold Brooks scored 12.
Free throw shooting proved to be the difference.
Mills made one of two from the line to put the Golden Eagles ahead, 75-74, with 3:12 left in the game.
The teams were tied, 79-79, entering the final minute.
Spikes connected twice from the foul line to give Marshall the lead for good at 81-79 with 30 seconds left to play. Marshall then made its next seven -- four by Scarver and three by Pittman -- in the final 12 seconds.
"We made big free throws, made them when they counted, made eight of nine down the stretch," Herrion said.