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The Herd's Alexis Johnson (23) pushes up center court as the Marshall University women's basketball team goes up against Rice University on Saturday, February 20, 2021, in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — There was one phrase uttered several times from Marshall head coach Tony Kemper on Saturday afternoon at Cam Henderson Center.

“Knock down a shot!” Kemper implored his team throughout its contest with Rice — Conference USA’s top team.

Unfortunately, the Herd struggled to do that early and it cost Marshall greatly as Rice maintained its undefeated record in league play with a 64-48 win on Saturday.

“We obviously just played horrendous on offense in the first half,” Kemper said. “You can’t do that and expect to find a way to win against a team as good as Rice.”

Marshall shot just five for 30 in the first half, digging itself an 18-point halftime hole that the team could not dig out of. Much of that shooting difficulty was based on the Herd rushing open looks.

The Herd made a bit of a run late in the third behind the play of Kristen Mayo, who scored five points and had a pair of assists during an 11-3 that cut the Rice lead to 13. It got down as low as 11 in the fourth, but Rice pushed it back out to a comfortable advantage with a late run.

In her first game back since January, Mayo led the Herd with 15 points.

Marshall (5-8, 4-7 C-USA) knew it needed to knock down shots to stay with Rice on Saturday, but could not find its mark.

Coming off a career-high 35 in her last game, Marshall’s Savannah Wheeler missed her first nine shots from the floor and did not score until the 5:40 mark of the third quarter. Taylor Pearson’s first points also did not come until 7:30 left in the game.

Kemper called out his leaders following the game, saying they need to have the expectation that they can score against anyone in the league.

“We need some hungry players that understand that how we’re playing offense right now isn’t good enough,” Kemper said.

Marshall missed its first seven field goal attempts from the floor as Rice ran out to a 10-0 lead in the game’s first five minutes and never looked back. The Herd’s first points came on a Mayo 3-pointer with 3:37 left in the first quarter.

Early, Marshall’s Kennedi Colclough was the lone player for the Herd who got into a rhythm, but Colclough battled foul trouble throughout while going against Rice’s Nancy Mulkey. Colclough fouled out early in the fourth with 10 points and only played 15 minutes.

Mulkey’s presence was felt in the contest as she scored the first six points of the third quarter to balloon the lead to its biggest at 39-17. She finished with 14 points and played minimally down the stretch.

Rice’s biggest contributions came from Lauren Schwartz, who finished with 18 points and six rebounds while knocking down four 3-pointers.

Of Schwartz’s 18 points, 11 came on second-chance opportunities, including three of her four 3-pointers in the game.

Rice (13-1, 9-0 C-USA) out-rebounded Marshall, 38-31, and had a 15-6 advantage in second-chance points — many of which came at momentum-killing times for the Herd.

Marshall post player Lorelei Roper said those additional opportunities were confidence-killers.

“I think it’s really hard when people are boxing out — working their butts off to box out big people, do whatever — and we just miss that rebound,” Roper said. “That’s tough. That is really tough. We’ve just got to go get it.”

Kemper said that Marshall needs to eliminate those opportunities while also being mentally tougher to finish the play when those chances do come about.

“Those things are frustrating when you maybe have a chance to force a stop and then you don’t finish the possession,” Kemper said. “I don’t like the word demoralizing and they need to grow up if it is (demoralizing). They’d better go compete again. They’d better figure out what they did and then fix the no box out or effort — whatever it was, they’d better fix it — but they’d better be pretty tough-minded about things.”

The teams return to action at noon on Sunday in the series finale at Cam Henderson Center. It will serve as Senior Day for Mayo and Pearson.

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