HUNTINGTON - Make no mistake about it: Things can always get worse.
Take Wednesday night, when a Marshall team that was (presumably) smarting from an 82-54 beat-down at Kentucky 11 days earlier, and (presumably) wanted to take it out on a well-traveled Delaware State team.
And just to make the night more promising for the Thundering Herd, the Hornets benched their top scorer, another starter and best big man off the bench for disciplinary reasons.
So what did the Cam Henderson Center crowd announced at 5,039 witness? The most infamous defeat of the season, as the Hornets deflated the Herd 53-51. Marshall's offensive woes not only continued, they got worse.
This may best sum it up: When Elijah Pittman dunked off a Kelvin Amayo steal for the Herd's 20th and 21st points, it happened at the 14:36 mark of the second half. Before then, the Herd shot 8 of 28 from the floor (28.6 percent), committed 12 turnovers and missed all five free-throw attempts, a skid that later grew to seven.
Before Pittman's dunk, the Hornets jumped out to a 31-19 advantage, leading 21-17 at the break and starting the second half on a 10-2 run. That's a deep, deep abyss to escape, especially when (a) your offense has become inept, and (b) the opponent is content to run "the weave" for 25-plus seconds each possession.
Oh, did Delaware State weave it. And it didn't bug the Hornets if the shot clock ran completely out - they had three such violations. In fact, they had two in three possessions, allowing the Herd to go on a 3-0 "run."
Face it: MU's offensive problems are increasing the opposition's margin for error.
"Our attitude was we can just run the clock as low as we could," said Hornets coach Greg Jackson. "Even if the shot clock ran out [and] they got possession of the ball, we get a chance to go back and set up our defense. This is a team we did not want to give that many possessions, allow them to get out in transition."
The Herd nearly yanked it out in the final four minutes. Pittman dunked off a quick pass from Dennis Tinnon to tie the game at 41 with 3:44 left, and Pittman hit two free throws to give the Herd its first lead, 43-41, with 3:02 left.
Delaware State not only answered, it didn't miss a shot the rest of the game.
That began with Tyshawn Bell's 3-pointer 29 seconds later, putting the Hornets up 44-43. Amayo answered, taking a Tamron Manning pass on the baseline for a layup and a 45-44 MU lead, its last.
Chris Lewis got to the line and hit both free throws to put the Hornets up 46-45. Amayo was fouled on a drive to the basket, but only made the first of three foul shots (a lane violation gave him a do-over). Tinnon rebounded the last miss and passed the ball out, but later turned the ball over while trapped in the foul circle.
After the Hornets used a timeout, Jabari Joyner broke the 46-all tie with a 3-pointer from the corner, falling as it went in with 58 seconds left.
Marshall couldn't tie it again, getting two Pittman free throws, 1 of 2 from Amayo and a Pittman dunk with 0.5 seconds left. The Hornets got two free throws each from Joyner and Lewis.
Pittman led all scorers with 17 points and Tinnon had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but they also combined for seven of the Herd's 15 turnovers. Marshall had just nine assists on 17 baskets, the latter tying the season low set against Cincinnati.
The Herd had just two assists against nine turnovers in the first half. Those numbers have gone in the wrong order in Marshall's last four games, and seven of the last eight.
"It's alarming when our assist-to-turnover ratio has plummeted in the last couple of weeks," said Herd coach Tom Herrion. "We don't have enough guys making plays for other guys."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Delaware State 53, Marshall 51
DELAWARE STATE (6-8)
M FG FT R A P
Casey Walker 37 5-13 0-0 5 0 13
Marques Oliver 32 5-8 2-4 6 0 12
Miles Bowman 23 2-9 0-1 6 1 4
Brandon Oliver 28 1-2 0-0 3 5 2