HUNTINGTON - It's enough to make a coach's hair a few hues grayer - a one-point lead with the clock nearing zero and a man named Jordan driving the lane.
Fortunately for Marshall and coach Tom Herrion, it wasn't Michael. But Michael Jordan's son Marcus, playing for Conference USA rival Central Florida, had the Thundering Herd's full attention Saturday night at the Henderson Center.
But the younger Jordan's layup attempt didn't really come close to falling. Josh Crittle snagged the offensive rebound but was picked clean by Damier Pitts, who dribbled out the last second. With that, the Herd escaped with a 65-64 victory.
The result gives the Herd (13-4 overall) a 4-0 record in C-USA play, putting it a half-game ahead of 3-0 Memphis atop the standings. But it hasn't been easy - the Herd has won its last three games by a combined five points.
"They want me to die," Herrion joked. "I keep my hair cut short so you don't see my gray hairs. I don't sleep at all anymore."
DeAndre Kane's two free throws with 14.5 seconds left stood up as the winning points. Kane scored 16 points despite a few misses at the free-throw line, and despite picking up his third foul in the first minutes of the second half.
His journey to the foul line went through the jungle of UCF defenders, where he drew contact with Keith Clanton, who fouled out on the play. As he lined up, the Herd's 10-of-23 free-throw shooting to that point had the 8,379 at Cam Henderson Center nervous.
The tying shot hit the front of the rim, bounded to the backboard and fell through. The go-ahead shot was a solid swish.
"No pressure," a half-joking Kane said afterward. "No pressure. It was good all along."
The Herd inserted 3-point bomber Dago Pena for that possession, providing an outside threat for the Knights to consider. UCF had troubled the Herd with a matchup zone, scoring 12 points off turnovers in the half.
"We put Dago at the 'four,' and set the screen," Kane said. "If they would have doubled me, we would've kicked it to Dago. But they switched and there was a big guy on me, so I took him."
Herrion quickly used his final timeout to plot defensive strategy, which ultimately panned out.
"For a left-handed player, he's strong, so good going to his right," Herrion said of Jordan. "He drove with purpose; we did a good job defending the first shot. We probably overhelped off Crittle and missed a blockout."
But Pitts foiled Crittle, who like many offensive rebounders brought the ball too low before attempting the putback.
"Shaq played great defense on [Jordan]," Pitts said. "Unfortunately, they got the offensive rebound [but] I was in the right spot at the right time. He kind of brought it down and I got a hand out there. He was about to bring it back up."
There were 40 fouls called in the game, and Kane feared a 41st as Jordan approached.
"I thought they were going to call a foul. I did, but they didn't, so that was great," he said.
That ended a game in which the Knights though they could have won, and the Herd felt they could have put away earlier.
Marshall took a 37-29 lead late in the first half despite having Dennis Tinnon, Robert Goff and Nigel Spikes out with two fouls, and despite going 6-of-13 from the foul line. But UCF cut the lead by three when Kasey Wilson banked in a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer, seconds before the game buzzer.
The Herd took two seven-point leads afterward, but nothing came easy because of (a) eight second-half turnovers and (b) more bad foul shooting, including a streak of five misses.
It didn't help that Spikes, Tinnon and Kane committed their third fouls in the first minute of the half. The bigger men went out, but Herrion kept Kane in and he did not pick up a quick fourth foul.
UCF (13-4, 3-1) missed two chances to take the lead before Pitts fell with the ball and Crittle scored on the fast break to put the Knights up 62-61 with 1:30 left. Tinnon gave the Herd the lead back when Tinnon put back his 10th rebound of the game, bailing out Kane on an over-ambitious drive.
But Clanton put UCF ahead 64-63 with 52 seconds left with a banked tip-in of a Jordan miss. Pitts missed a jumper at the other end, and Shaquille Johnson fouled Jordan on the way back up the floor.
That was just Marshall's ninth team foul, so Jordan had a one-and-bonus. He entered the game at 75.3 percent from the line, but wasn't close with the first shot.
With new life, the Herd regrouped with 24.6 seconds left and set up the final offensive possession for each team. Kane found a way to score and the Herd found a way to stop an M.J.
"We wanted Marcus to get the ball, and drive and have an opportunity to make a play," said UCF coach Donnie Jones, who received his share of boos from the home crowd. "He had a shot at it and missed it, and we got the rebound, got it knocked out of our hands.
"You've got to make those plays. You can't look for a call, or look for a foul."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-444-1083 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.
Marshall 65, UCF 64