MEMPHIS, Tenn. - For those who steadfastly believe there is no such thing as a moral victory, Marshall presented the strongest evidence to the contrary.
Three days after suffering a medieval beating at Southern Mississippi, the Thundering Herd made the home folks at Memphis nervous until the final seconds Saturday, losing 73-72.
Still, the Thundering Herd could have accomplished so much more. It had several chances to tie or take the lead, including a 3-point shot by Elijah Pittman in the waning seconds that came up short of the rim. The Tigers' D.J. Stephens appeared to make contact with the ball, Pittman's hand or both on the shot.
Whatever the case, the Herd's upset hopes were finally doused when Chris Crawford made two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to put the Tigers up 73-69. DeAndre Kane's 3-pointer at the buzzer was inconsequential, other than setting the final score.
A win in the Herd's last Conference USA journey to FedExForum would have been a miraculous turnaround from Wednesday's 102-46 loss at Southern Miss. The result pushed Marshall (9-11 overall) to 2-3 in league play but shows that, no, the program hasn't collapsed.
"I thought we played nose-to-nose with one of the best teams in the country," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "The trick is to do that every night. We have 11 games left.
"We showed a lot of character in the last 72 hours."
Kane led the Herd with 22 points, with D.D. Scarver adding 20, in part with three big-time 3-pointers, the last pulling the Herd within 68-67 with 2:18 left.
Before that, the Herd suffered critical setbacks such as turnovers and a missed dunk that kept it behind at least two scores. On the other hand, MU avoided disastrous runs after falling behind 28-18 in the first half and 58-49 in the second half.
After Scarver's big basket, Joe Jackson got Kane turned around and drove to the basket to draw a foul, the fifth on Robert Goff. Kane suffered a slight groin pull earlier in the half and was a good target for the player-of-the-year candidate.
But Jackson hit just one free throw with 1:03 left, and MU had possession while trailing 71-69.
Kane missed a difficult driving layup, but Nigel Spikes got the rebound despite his ankle injury. Kane had a better layup on his next trip to the rim but somehow missed, and Pittman's tap missed just as mysteriously.
But Geron Johnson bricked two free throws to give Marshall another chance. After Herrion called a timeout with 13.7 seconds left, the Herd went for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to take the lead - first Scarver was denied and then Pittman circled around for what appeared to be an open shot.
But Stephens is the highest jumper on a Memphis team loaded with good hops, and that might have made the difference. "I'll have to see the film to see if there was contact," Herrion said.
The Tigers (16-3, 5-0) stayed in a virtual tie in the C-USA standings with Southern Miss (17-4, 6-0), which held on to win 62-59 Saturday at Tulsa. Jackson scored 16 points and had five assists, Adonis Thomas had 15 points and Shaq Goodwin 11.
Marshall's defensive effort in the final minutes pushed Memphis' shooting under 50 percent, at 48 percent. The Tigers shot 55 percent or better in all three wins over the Herd last year, including the C-USA tournament final.
The Herd outrebounded the Tigers 39-33, including 17 offensive rebounds it turned into 20 second-chance points. Dennis Tinnon had nine rebounds to go with his nine points.
Marshall finally gets to play back-to-back home games next week, beginning with Southern Methodist at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Central Florida arrives at Cam Henderson Center next Saturday for a 2 p.m. tip.
MEMPHIS 73, MARSHALL 72
Marshall (9-11, 2-3)
M FG FT R A P
Dennis Tinnon 35 3-12 2-2 9 2 9
D.D. Scarver 36 7-15 3-3 5 3 20
Nigel Spikes 17 1-3 0-0 4 0 2