HUNTINGTON - It is said everything in Texas is big.
Today, Marshall is big in Texas. The Thundering Herd played large against Texas teams all season and completed the four-game sweep by downing Houston 66-58 on Wednesday. (MU also defeated Lone Star State opponents UTEP, Rice and SMU.)
And no one on Wednesday was bigger for Marshall in Win No. 17 than Nigel Spikes. Figuratively. Almost literally. (MU's 7-foot-2 sophomore Yous Mbao did make an appearance.)
Spikes, the 6-10 junior center, rose up in the second half, electrified the Cam Henderson Center crowd and helped send it away happy.
If you simply look at Spikes' stat line, you might scratch your head. Huh? Sure, he had 10 rebounds, but that's bundled with only three points.
How he rose up, though, is by rising up. And blocking shots. At the right time.
Here's the deal. Marshall's game against Houston was an absolute must-win for the Herd, which entered the season with very high expectations. It entered the game No. 57 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index with the nation's No. 19th-toughest schedule. (Remember, MU played teams like Syracuse, Southern Miss, Memphis and West Virginia.) If it has any chance at making a run at an at-large NCAA berth or winning the Conference USA tournament, it needed a hotfoot from this game. Left for the Herd: Memphis on Saturday, East Carolina on the road and Southern Miss at home before the C-USA tournament.
Spikes might have given his team that hotfoot. MU's Shaquille Johnson goosed the home crowd of 6,023 (to call that an average Herd crowd is an understatement; the season average heading in was 6,024) with a bucket. But Spikes helped raise the roof with a swat of TaShawn Thomas on the other end. Moments later, Spikes blocked another shot. And Houston (certainly not your father's Phi Slamma Jamma team, by the way) was visibly rattled.
After outscoring MU 18-12 in the paint in the first half, the Cougars, now 12-14, became meek. They started jacking 3-point attempts.
Meanwhile, Marshall rolled. The offense went on a 24-5 run, clicking as all expected when the season began. The standard on the video board side got a workout, swaying from dunks. And Spikes lit the fuse.
"On the first one, I came from the weak side," Spikes said. "Dennis [Tinnon] plays great defense and I don't have to help too much, but I saw the offensive player go up and just contested it."
He contested it into the stands. Understand that Damier Pitts, DeAndre Kane and Dago Pena carried the load in regard to scoring. But the snapshot of this game captures Spikes' blocks. He had three, one with 20 seconds remaining for good measure. In addition, he kept fighting and fighting for a second-half offensive rebound, leading the way in hustle, before getting fouled.