Herd dominates Gaels
HUNTINGTON - In simplest terms, Marshall took a team that had lost one game - by a single point to Purdue - and dismantled it in the second half Sunday afternoon.
Before 5,918 at Cam Henderson Center, the Thundering Herd adjusted to Iona's rapid-fire transition game and dominated the Gaels on the boards to win going away, 82-63.
The Gaels, which led 30-22 at one point in the first half, entered the game 29th in the Rating Percentage Index. They also entered the game averaging 92 points, tops in the nation.
It may have been the Herd's best all-around game of the season.
"We just beat a very good team. I hope you understand how good a club that is," said Herd coach Tom Herrion. "And I have nobody to blame for scheduling it but me. My own angst, my own anxiety is my fault."
But it worked out in the home team's favor, as the Herd outworked, outhustled and outscored the Gaels 40-23 in the second half.
Damier Pitts, at times a one-man scoring run, hit four 3-point goals and fired in 25 points. DeAndre Kane added 19, matched Pitts in assists with five and stole five passes, helping foil the Gaels' fast break.
Kane also made the play of the year in Marshall's still-young season, hustling to the right corner from the top of the key, hurdling the MU bench and scooping the ball behind him. That ball came to Pitts, who drove to the lane for a three-point play.
That extended a 46-45 Marshall lead to 49-45. As the partisans roared, Iona (7-2) really didn't have a chance thereafter.
Not with the way the Herd (6-2) was pushing its weight around on the boards.
Pick your number there. Dennis Tinnon led all rebounders with 11, though he only scored four points. The return of Nigel Spikes was welcomed, and he struck for six points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.
The Herd outrebounded the Gaels 39-18, 21-6 in the second half. It pulled down 19 of its 33 missed shots, and led in second-chance points 25-8.
"We knew that was an area we were going to struggle with against this team," said Iona coach Tim Cluess. "We tried to limit those struggles, but we were not able to."
Iona staggered the Herd in the first 121/2 minutes to take that eight-point lead. Mike Glover scored 12 points in that stretch and looked nearly impossible to stop. But Pitts and Justin Coleman, who scored 11 points in his first start, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to get the crowd back in it.
"We recognized how fast they were, but it took us about 10 minutes to settle into their speed," Herrion said. "They played at a breakneck speed, [Scott] Machado is so good at attacking.
"They were what everyone said they were, and more. We're fortunate to beat them. Our defense was much better in the second half. Rebounding, I thought, was a big factor."
Spikes gave the Herd its first lead at 40-38, cleaning up a botched alley-oop pass. The Herd took a 42-40 lead into the locker room despite Glover's 16 points and the Gaels' 57 percent shooting.
The latter statistic only fell to 53.2 percent, but the Herd rendered it irrelevant. With Kane foiling long outlook passes, the Gaels couldn't fast-break after baskets and they surely couldn't do it after Herd misses because, well, the Herd was getting all the rebounds.
Marshall shot 50 percent, splitting its 58 shots. The Gaels managed just 47 attempts, and were 3-of-13 on 3-pointers.
The Herd even outscored the Gaels on fast-break points, 10-9, and committed only 11 turnovers - just two off steals.
"When you score, they're better in transition off made shots," Herrion said. "They get it out to Machado and they fly those wings, and we finally were able to get out a little more in our transition defense, and take away that pitch up the side. We were able to get a little bit wider in our transition coverage."
Cluess hinted that the Herd's sheer athletic ability was a factor.
"They did a nice job, I thought, of finding our guys in transition and hustling back," Cluess said. "I think we were a little careless with the basketball on some of those possessions and we missed a few [passes] by, probably, 3 or 4 inches, where maybe some of the teams we've played weren't quite as long and athletic, so our passes connected.
"Tonight, some of those were deflected."
The victory sends the Herd into the rest of finals week on a good note. It returns to action at 7 p.m. Saturday, taking on High Point in the first of three home games in five days. Belmont arrives Dec. 19, with WVU Tech paying a visit on the 21st.
Coleman said he learned right before the game he was starting. He played 20 minutes and finished with 11 points, getting nine points in 14 minutes in the first half. He showed his shooting and powerful moves to the basket better than he has all year.
Shaquille Johnson started his first game, also playing 20 minutes.
"I'm the last guy in Cabell County that worries about who starts," Herrion said. "I don't get too particularly wrapped up in who starts. I've got too many good players."
On Spikes' return, Herrion said, "He's not near 100 percent yet. Medically, he's safe and sound. Now we're in the process of getting him back to 100 percent, hopefully by UTEP [conference opener, Jan. 4]. That's our goal."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.