HUNTINGTON — Every time Marshall would start to pull away, Morehead State would find a way to claw back.
Not until Brianah Ferby hit from behind the arc with 1:19 left could the Thundering Herd start to think the Jam The Cam night would be a success.
The Eagles had just gotten within a point on two long-bomb threes by Terri Smith to cut the margin to one at 59-58 with 1:31 left.
Ferby countered with her three to extend the lead to four at 62-58 and Savannah Wheeler and Alexis Johnson would convert free throws to clinch the win, 64-58, in front of 737 fans at Cam Henderson Center.
“Those threes were pretty deep,” Wheeler said of Smith’s successive treys. “That got the momentum going for them. Brianah had the biggest shot of the night. A game-changer. That’s how you finish it.”
Wheeler led Marshall (3-0) with 22 points with her biggest damage at the foul line where she made 11 of 12. CC Mays added 15.
Lauren Carter, just one of three returning players, paced the Eagles (0-2) with 21 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double. She was the lone Morehead State player in double figures.
Morehead State, with 13 new faces on the roster via the transfer portal or being a freshman, had 10 days to prepare. The Herd had five after a Nov. 14 win at Radford.
“They had a lot of time to prepare for us,” Marshall coach Tony Kemper said. “Lauren Carter completely changes the team. They made it tough to get the ball where we wanted it to go. They put us in a lot of bad spots. Credit them. They came in ready to play. We played much harder in the second half. We found a way to win.”
Friday’s meeting was the first between the team teams in six years. The Herd leads the all-time series 28-21. They had last met Nov. 13, 2015 in Morehead, Ky., when Marshall held on for a 104-101 win.
Marshall’s next two games are against Big Ten members. The Herd visits Purdue on Monday and Michigan State on Nov. 28. Kemper said his team has plenty to work on.
“Preparation leading into this was not what it needed to be,” Kemper said. “Not to take credit from them. We did a lot of things to make it that way. It changed, we finally found a way to get it flipped.
“It’s why basketball’s so difficult. You get ready to go 30 times or you get beat. Hopefully tonight’s a learning experience. The energy has to be right. The first half, we were not focused. We were lucky to escape with a win with not our best effort. We better make some shots. Two-for-21 makes it hard.”
Kemper left impressed with Carter and the Eagles, who are in the Ohio Valley Conference. Carter did not play on Nov. 9 when Michigan State routed the Eagles, 93-31.
“First time she actually played,” Kemper said. “They had five shooters on the floor all night. Go back and change. Probably picked the wrong thing most of the night. We were not ready for her. She got help, too. They stretched the floor.”
Kemper likes the way Mays is adjusting. With 27 seconds left in the third period, Mays and Aiden Rainford of the Eagles got into a scrap under the Morehead basket and that prompted the official to call a double technical.
“She’s learned a lot how to play basketball at this level,” Kemper said. “She was like a middle linebacker when she got here. She plays smarter now. She was so aggressive. It was tough to explain why you can’t do what you did. She learns, she’s not afraid to take criticism.”
Mays it’s a case of maturing.
“It has a positive and negative effect,” she said. “I play with emotion. Some things I have to work on. I attack, take what they give me.”
Wheeler knows about Marshall and Morehead State get togethers even if it had been a while. She’s was Miss Kentucky Basketball in 2019, her senior year at Boyd County High School.
“They’ve got a whole new team, whole new coaching staff,” Wheeler said. “They had a few days off to prepare for us. Maybe we overlooked them a little bit. They stayed with us to the end.
“To be honest, I rushed my shot a little bit. When I hit the first three, I was more poised. I took what the defense gave me. The right pass or the right shot. Two-for-21 (threes) we can’t do that again.”
Marshall had no threes in the first and third quarters. However, the Herd converted 13-of-15 free throws in the second half to hold off the visitors. The Eagles made 3-of-4 in the first, but struggled the rest of the way and made just 5-of-13 overall. They did make seven three-pointers.