HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Fans may have left Cam Henderson Center holding their noses after 40 minutes of dreadfully ugly basketball Wednesday night, but Tom Herrion was grinning about his Marshall team's 70-67 win over Morehead State.
"I'm thrilled with this win. I love grinders," said the third-year Thundering Herd coach.
Oh, this was a grinder all right. The Herd prevailed against what might be the hardest-hitting athletic team on the Morehead campus, or at least the most frequent-hitting.
And yes, the school still sponsors baseball and non-scholarship football.
Marshall won this game in part with ... wait for it ... free-throw shooting. Not that it was particularly great, 63.6 percent, but there was so much of it. The Herd took 44 foul shots, hitting 28, to Morehead's 8 of 16.
Under first-year coach Sean Woods, the Eagles entered the game with 59 more fouls than their six opponents and added 15 more to that margin. Their end-of-game foulfest padded the final count of 32, yes, but the Eagles weren't afraid to knock somebody around.
It was a good thing Marshall has no-called-foul periods in practice.
"[Herrion] said they'd foul a lot, you could see that," said the Herd's DeAndre Kane. "They foul so much that [officials] call some of them, but they can't call all of them because they foul on darn near every possession."
The Eagles had their first player with two fouls just 1:30 into the game. They only fouled out one player but had four others finish with four fouls and two more with three.
In the second half, Marshall was in the double bonus with 10:21 left, and shot 17 of 25 from the line thereafter.
Woods noted the discrepancy in those foul shots, adding, "A lot of that came because we did give up some offensive rebounds, and when you give up an offensive rebound nothing good comes out of that."
Dennis Tinnon did the most damage on the glass, hauling down 16 rebounds to go with his 12 points. He had six of those on offensive end, part of Marshall's 24. Nigel Spikes had nine rebounds to go with his 13 points and Kane had eight boards to go with his 13 points.
That didn't translate into instant offense, however. The Herd had overcome a 21-14 deficit in a first half in which is shot 26.5 percent. It had to overcome 17 pressure-induced turnovers, including one that gave the Eagles a chance to tie the game with 3 seconds left. (Bakari Turner's 3 from the corner came up woefully short, however.)
D.D. Scarver was the biggest beneficiary of the parading to the line, making all 10 attempts in the final 1:17 to finish with 17 points. He foiled the Eagles' late-game strategy of getting the slumping Kane to the line, where he did break a nine-miss streak before faltering again.
But you can't foul Kane when he throws the inbounds pass, and definitely not when he finds Scarver with those tosses. Scarver, a junior-college transfer, is now 21 of 24 for the season from the line.
"What you want to do is deny Scarver the ball, first of all," Woods said. "His quick self, he made a way to go get it. He was tough enough to go get a ball, and his team needed that."
Marshall was tough enough to turn that 21-14 deficit into a 24-23 halftime lead. It took the lead for good when Kane knocked the ball loose from Milton Chavis, Scarver picked it up and tossed it back to Kane, who set up Elijah Pittman for a soft dunk and a 34-32 lead.
That grew to 59-52 on the play of a night, Kane's fake behind-the-back pass and layup with 3:17 left. The largest lead was 63-55 with 1:02 left, a margin large enough to withstand 3-pointers by Jarrett Stokes and Maurice Lewis-Briggs.
Kane had seven assists, easing the pain of a 5-of-20 night shooting, and Scarver also struggled at 2 of 10. Tinnon and Spikes counteracted with a combined 9-of-16 outing.
Stokes led the Eagles with 14 points, followed by Chavis with 11. The latter shot 4 of 14 from the field, one of Marshall's top defensive achievements. The Herd also forced 15 turnovers, turning those into 17 points.
"We hung our hat tonight on defense," Herrion said. "I really feel good about tonight. You can win when you defend and rebound. Offense is fickle, we found that out tonight."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Morehead State (4-3)
M FG FT R A P
Kahlil Owens 17 2-10 2-6 8 0 6