HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall coach Tom Herrion preferred to talk about the first 20 minutes of his team's 89-82 win Saturday over Nevada, as well he should. The final 10 minutes weren't pretty at all.
But the Herd (3-3) held the Wolf Pack (3-2) to 30 percent shooting in the first half, building a 40-24 lead. That momentum carried into the second half, as Marshall bumped the margin up to 23 points, 64-41, with 12:39 left.
That was enough to withstand an assault by the backcourt duo of Deonte Burton and Malik Story, which cut the Herd's lead down to five points in the final three minutes.
Giving up 58 second-half points didn't make Herrion happy, but seeing Nevada score just 24 points in the first half did. Very happy, as a matter of fact, especially after the Herd's two tough losses last week on Long Island.
And a day after the football season ended in a thud, it was good for the 5,583 Marshall fans at Cam Henderson Center to see a little defense.
"It might have been the best 20 minutes [of defense] we've played since I've been here," Herrion said.
How good was it? The Wolf Pack was stuck on 11 points for four minutes, as the Herd expanded a 16-11 lead to 24-11. Nevada didn't score its 17th point until the 2:39 mark of the first half and finally hit 20 with 1:30 left.
At the other end, Dennis Tinnon and Elijah Pittman were hitting from outside, inside and everywhere in between. Both hit double figures by halftime and finished with 24 and 22 points, respectively - Pittman setting a career high and Tinnon tying his.
But Nevada coach David Carter seemed more impressed with the Herd's offense.
"I thought they shot the ball really well, especially Pittman in the first half, 4 for 4, two 3s," Carter said. "I thought they were in really good rhythm, offensively. The start of the second half, they scored the first six out of eight possessions they had. When you dig yourself a hole like that on the road, it's hard to come back."
For Herrion, the key was to knock the Wolf Pack out of its offensive game plan, and he declared success on that point. The Herd just didn't handle the two-man rally down the stretch very well.
Burton finished with 28 points and Story had 25, hitting five 3-pointers with hands in his face.
"It's as good a backcourt as we may play against all season," Herrion said. "Clearly, I would have liked to have played better in the second half, in stretches. They abandoned their offense; we took them out of any offensive flow. They went to spread and drive. They put it in Burton's hands; he's so hard to control and contain, and Story coming off those double [screens].
"Those two guys, if my math is correct, were 17 of 31; the rest of the team was 11 for 31."
Yes, his math was correct. And he was correct when he figured his team wasn't going to keep a team that won 28 games a season ago down 20 the entire way. By the 7:11 mark, Nevada had the lead down to single digits at 71-62.
The Herd hit back with three-point plays by Pittman and Kane and two D.D. Scarver free throws providing a 79-64 lead with 5:43 left. But the Wolf Pack got two three-point plays and two long bombs by Story to cut the margin to 83-78. Worse yet for the Herd, Kane had to call a timeout when nobody came back to take the inbounds pass.
After the timeout, the possession started sluggishly, running deep into the shot clock. Finally, Kane found Nigel Spikes wide open underneath and fed him for a power dunk.
"We ran a play where I set a screen for [Kane], and they jumped it and kind of cheated the play," Spikes said. "So I rolled. He has very good court vision and I didn't give up on the play and he didn't give up, so he found me and I finished it. It was just good execution by everyone, because the stuff they were doing, it took their attention away from me, and got me open."
That 85-78 lead was enough for the Herd to withstand Kane's seven consecutive missed free throws, two on airballs. Kane had one of the strangest stat lines, going 3 for 14 on field goals and the same on free throws. Still, his 13 assists kept the Herd offense humming - it shot 51.6 percent and committed only seven turnovers.
"Didn't play particularly well, but I thought he was in complete control of the game," Herrion said. "Against as good a guard as we'll face all year, in Burton. One thing he does right now: He trusts his teammates."
Big men Robert Goff and Yous Mbao are out indefinitely after a scary collision in practice Tuesday. Both were taken out of the Henderson Center on flat boards. Mbao, the 7-foot-2 junior from Senegal, did not leave the hospital until Saturday afternoon and met the team in a wheelchair before the game.
Herrion said there are significant concussion issues with both, especially Mbao. He expects Goff to recover significantly quicker, but called both players "on a road to recovery, regardless of whether they play again this season, which is a possibility."
The collision happened in a rebounding drill that Herrion has used for years.
"It was a rudimentary, basic rebounding drill we do with campers in the summertime, as simple as it may sound," Herrion said. "It will never be used again in a practice or a camp, I'll tell you that right now."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Marshall 89, Nevada 82
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