HUNTINGTON - When DeAndre Kane burst into Marshall's postgame press conference Saturday night, he did so with the same confidence he used to finish off a victory over North Carolina-Wilmington minutes earlier.
"Who said I couldn't make free throws?" Kane exclaimed, with a mixture of bravado and relief.
Mired in a dreadful shooting slump, Kane hit two free throws to give Marshall the lead over the Seahawks with 21.1 seconds left. He separated the ball from the hot hands of UNCW's Craig Ponder, and D.D. Scarver hit two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to finish the Thundering Herd's 61-58 victory.
A crowd of 5,689 at Cam Henderson Center watched the Herd eke out a victory even uglier than its win Wednesday over Morehead State.
The Herd won despite 10 first-half turnovers, despite shooting 30.8 percent in the second half and despite the 26-point outburst by Ponder, the Bluefield native.
The redshirt freshman didn't give the Herd much to see in game video because, frankly, he hadn't played well. His six-game stats: 23 points total on 5-of-23 shooting, with five assists and 20 turnovers.
The shooting numbers improved Saturday, as he hit 11 of 16, 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Marshall (5-3) geared its defense toward slowing down post players Keith Rendleman (nine points, six rebounds, foul trouble) and Cedrick Williams (four points, five rebounds), but was stunned by Ponder.
"It goes back to coming home. You're either doing one of two things: You play out of your mind or you play poorly," said Herd coach Tom Herrion. "There's no middle ground - they don't play just OK."
UNCW coach Buzz Peterson said, "This young man, I've seen it in him in practice, I knew he could do it. It was just a matter of time, and I'm glad he picked today to do it. Now, I'm sure he gained a lot of confidence off that as we hit strides before Christmas, and coming into conference play."
Kane had his own troubles, going 8 of 34 from the floor and 6 of 23 from the line in the previous two games. For this game, he dished out five assists and even made a long 3-pointer, but missed eight close-in shots - including a dunk.
With his teammates also clanking a layup here and chunking a layup there, the Herd found itself down 58-57 with 1:18 left on Ponder's fake pass and layup. It got worse when Kane flipped a pass to Dennis Tinnon out front, but Tinnon wasn't looking and Tanner Milson stole the ball with a minute left.
Oh, it got even tougher, as the Seahawks (3-4) clipped off about 27 seconds off the shot clock, and Rendleman tapped an offensive rebound to Ponder, who now didn't have a shot clock to beat.
Marshall did have fouls to give, though. Scarver fouled once, then twice, forcing the Seahawks into yet another inbounds pass on the sideline near midcourt with 27.2 seconds left.
This time, Marshall's Jamir Hanner knocked away Milson's inbounds pass, tapping it to Kane. The junior went strong to the glass and, yes, missed the layup. Amid the humanity going for the rebound, the Seahawks' 7-foot Matt Wilson was called for a foul, his fifth.
Scarver went to the line as if he were the offended Herd player, and it wasn't a bad ploy - he was shooting 87.5 percent. But officials checked the video and determined it was Kane and his 45.9 percent going to the line with 21.1 seconds left.
Swish, swish, MU leads 59-58.
"No doubt that those two were going down with Kane. No doubt," Herrion said.
With the clock winding down, Ponder attempted his final drive, going around Kane to his right. Kane coolly reached around and cleanly tapped the ball away to teammate Tinnon, who tossed to Scarver. Scarver eagerly accepted the foul and sank his two shots.
Peterson said it surprised him to see Ponder go to his right, as he is a left-hander by nature and Marshall had much trouble with that. But on this play, Herrion and the Herd planned it that way.
"Milson had it, and they were running that triple handoff, when 'Dre stayed up on [Ponder], he sat up on his left hand," Herrion said. "Sit on his left hand and push him back to his right. If he beats you back right, so be it."
While Ponder was the Seahawks' only double-figure scorer, Marshall had four: Kane with 16, Elijah Pittman 13, Scarver 12 and Nigel Spikes 10. Spikes had 13 rebounds to complete a double-double, and Tinnon had 12 rebounds.
Marshall had 18 offensive rebounds, nine by Spikes, to nine for UNCW. And the Herd managed such boardwork while committing just 10 fouls, three of them strategically in the final minute.
The Seahawks were whistled for 26, 19 in the second half. They went 3 of 6 from the line, compared to 16 of 26 for the Herd.
"I'm not going to say anything about that. Geez," Peterson said. "It was big [by] a wide margin."
BRIEFLY: Robert Goff returned to the lineup after missing two games for the concussion suffered in his practice collision with Yous Mbao. He played 12 minutes ... Redshirt freshman DeVince Boykins made his college debut, getting a two-minute stint. ... When Chris Martin drew two charging fouls against Chris Dixon in the second half, it was the Herd's first such plays all year. The first charge broke a drought of 320 minutes, 43 seconds.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.