HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - After Marshall had a week between games in conference play, the question Saturday night was this: Would the Thundering Herd have fresh legs, or would the players be rusty and struggle to get back in sync?
Emphatically, "fresh legs" was the answer, and East Carolina took a trampling from the opening tip. Marshall scored the game's first 12 points and rarely looked back in a 77-56 rout.
The crowd of 6,056 at Cam Henderson Center had settled in when the Herd (9-9, 2-1 Conference USA) started an impressive first-half flogging of the Pirates (11-6, 2-2).
It took almost 21/2 minutes for the Herd to score its first field goal, but the rest of the early barrage came quickly thereafter. It started with Nigel Spikes dunking off an Elijah Pittman steal and continued with Pittman dunking after a miss by ECU's Maurice Kemp.
Then DeAndre Kane tossed in an off-balance 3-pointer and Pittman stole the ball and put in his own miss at the other end, and it was 10-0 just four minutes into the game. ECU coach Jeff Lebo called timeout, but he couldn't stop the lopsided race.
It took the Pirates 5:49 to score their first basket, nearly four minutes to score their second and about 21/2 more minutes to score their third. By then ECU was trying to dent MU's 27-4 lead.
It was that kind of a night. About the only suspense the Pirates could muster was when they scored the first six points of the second half, momentarily cutting into a 20-point deficit. That only seemed to make the Herd mad, and the margin stretched to 67-38.
Yeah, that week after the decisive loss at Texas-El Paso was put to good use.
"I thought we did a good job managing bodies, in terms of when to ease off a little bit," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "We looked like the fresher team, energized. We were able to game plan a little longer for East Carolina because of the [midweek bye], so we took advantage of it.
"We haven't had that this early in the season because of the West Virginia series [which was moved to December], historically."
Defensively, the Herd didn't do much wrong. The Pirates, the league's highest-scoring team, were held to 32.8 percent shooting and were 4 of 16 from 3-point range. It wasn't just that ECU didn't shoot the 3s well, but they didn't shoot nearly as many - and it wasn't by choice.
Point guard Miguel Paul scored 17 points and had five assists but turned the ball over seven times. Kemp, the league's leading scorer heading into the day, was held to 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He took 121/2 minutes to hit the scoresheet.
"He's struggled on the road against higher-level players," Lebo said. "He's 6-7, 185, got beat around tonight with those big bodies around the rim."
In a stat that seems amazing at first glance, the smaller Pirates outrebounded the Herd 47-42 and pulled down 19 offensive rebounds. Not that they did much with those boards, scoring just six second-chance points.
Herrion wasn't worked up about those numbers as he would be in other games. For the reason why, refer to ECU's 3-point output.
"Minus-5 on the glass, but we switched a little bit more, caused mismatches," Herrion said. "[Robert] Sampson bothered us on the glass [17 rebounds], but we had to defend the 3-point shot in my opinion, and the switching was very effective."
Offensively, the Herd's only significant problem was 10-of-23 foul shooting, but that is nothing new. The Herd shot 47.6 percent from the floor, hit seven 3-point shots in 18 tries, scored 24 points off turnovers and a whopping 52 points in the paint.
That's how many points Kentucky painted the Herd with nearly a month ago.
"We wanted to attack inside," Herrion said. "Just because it says 'points in the paint' doesn't necessarily mean we jam it in, jam it in. We play on the bounce in the paint, we posted some different guys in the paint. We executed really well in our sets. We got different guys in there."
Kane, who led the Herd with 22 points, shot 50 percent from all distances - 7 of 14 overall, 3 of 16 from 3-point land and 5 of 10 on freebies. He probably deserved a double-double, as a few fumbled passes held him to eight assists.
Pittman dominated early, scoring 13 of the Herd's first 29 points and finishing with 19. D.D. Scarver hit three 3-pointers to finish with 11, and Dennis Tinnon scored his 17th career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
They all scored in transition at some point, as the Herd was credited with 20 fast-break points. Of course, some were part of those 24 points off turnovers, and Lebo found both categories devastating.
"We had a lot [of misses, turnovers] that turned into 3s at the other end," Lebo said. "So those are like five-, six-point plays, multiple times that happened. That really hurt us in this one."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Marshall 77, East Carolina 56
EAST CAROLINA (11-6, 2-1 C-USA)
M FG FT R A P
Matt Humphrey 19 2-5 0-1 3 0 5
Maurice Kemp 32 5-15 0-0 3 0 10