Herd holds off UCF, 65-64
HUNTINGTON — Crowd noise reached ear-splitting levels several times Saturday night in Cam Henderson Center.
Much of the racket was aimed at UCF men’s basketball head coach Donnie Jones, who brought the Knights back for the second time to play the Marshall University team he coached for three seasons from 2008 to 2010. Jones was soundly booed before tip-off when he walked onto the court, shook hands with the referees and went to the visiting bench.
A few minutes later, the 8,379 spectators roared and many waved neon green glowsticks while the lights were dimmed during Marshall head coach Tom Herrion’s introduction.
But, the clamor reached a crescendo at the very end of Marshall’s 65-64 victory.
Marshall guard Dre Kane made a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining that put the Thundering Herd ahead by one in a game where the lead changed hands three times in the final two minutes.
“We won with toughness — resilience,” Herrion said.
UCF point guard A.J. Rompza, another target of the fans who booed every time he touched the basketball, moved the ball up court and went to Marcus Jordan, who curled into the lane looking for the game-winning shot. NBA legend Michael Jordan’s son missed with three seconds to go, but teammate Josh Crittle got the rebound.
Crittle tried to get off a shot and Herd guard Damier Pitts stole it.with two seconds left.
Shaq Johnson of the Herd came away with the loose ball and tossed it high into the air as the crowd went wild.
Marshall ended the day with a 13-4 record and sole possession of first place in Conference USA at 4-0. UCF slipped from a tie for first at 13-4 and 3-1.
Herrion said the crowd support was phenomenal. The coach said he could hear and feel the energy beforehand inside the locker room.
Kane went a bit farther with his assessment.
“Our fans were crazy,” the sophomore guard said. “Bananas.”
Marshall led, 37-32, at halftime and pulled away by seven when Kane got a friendly bounce off the rim on a 3-point shot with 15:55 remaining. UCF pulled within one five times before finally getting over the hump with a 62-61 lead on Crittle’s layup with 1:34 left in the game. Keith Clanton’s tip-in basket made it a 64-63 lead and only 49 seconds remained.
Pitts missed a jump shot and Jordan was off on a free throw, setting the stage for the Herd.
Kane, Pitts and Dago Pena all handled the basketball ball before Kane was fouled by Clanton and made the deciding foul shots.
“Marshall made the big plays down the stretch,” Jones said. “Give Marshall credit. They found ways to win.”
Kane’s 16 points represented the only Marshall player in double figures, but he had plenty of support.
Johnson and Pena both added eight points and Dennis Tinnon scored seven. Pitts, Rob Goff and Nigel Spikes each contributed six more.
Yous Mbao and Jamir Hanner impacted the game from off the Marshall bench. Mbao had three rebounds, two blocked shots and one steal in a six-minute stretch of the first half when the Herd had Kane, Tinnon, Spikes and Goff all on the bench with two fouls.
Hanner had four points and five rebounds in 11 minutes of action.
“Our bench gave us unbelievable minutes,” Herrion said. “Tonight was an example of needing guys to step up.”
Marshall left a lot of points at the foul line, making just 12 of 25 free throw attempts, but made them when it counted.
Tinnon’s 10 rebounds were high for Marshall, which remained unbeaten in the battle of the backboards this season with a 43-39 advantage. Marshall had 16 offensive rebounds, which were good for 18 second-chance points.
Clanton had 14 points and eight rebounds for the Knights. Isaiah Sykes followed with 10 points and eight rebounds. Jordan made only three of 17 shots and scored nine.
Sykes was tagged with a flagrant foul with 4:11 left in the first half after running by the Marshall bench and hitting Herrion with an elbow. Herrion went staggering into the bench with his hand on his chest. Referee Rick Hartzell ruled the foul wasn’t malicious, or Sykes would have been ejected.
“A non-story,” Herrion said. “The referees handled it well.”
A double tecnhical foul was called on Tristan Spurlock of the Knights and Johnson following a rebound battle with 44 seconds left in the half.
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