CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall and Central Florida began their Conference USA basketball existence against each other in Orlando, and that is where their short but interesting series ends tonight.
The Thundering Herd and Knights will battle for the 16th time in their eight seasons in C-USA at 7 p.m. at the 10,000-seat UCF Arena. The Knights, heading to the Big East after this season, are ineligible for the postseason under NCAA sanctions.
From a purely competitive standpoint, this was one of the league's better new rivalries - and it was even before Donnie Jones took his coaching whistle from MU to UCF. Some of the highlights of a series Marshall leads 9-6:Herd 73, UCF 69, Jan. 12, 2006 at Orlando: Hometown product Travis Aikens scored 17 points to lead MU at the former UCF Arena, a 5,000-seat bandbox, in the first C-USA league game for both teams.UCF 77, Herd 63, Feb. 6, 2008 at Orlando: At the new UCF Arena, Jermaine Taylor scored a career-high 34 points as the Knights won their third in a row over MU. Notable: Assistant Shawn Finney, a former head coach at Tulane, coached the Herd after Jones fell ill after visiting recruit Shaq Johnson in Jacksonville.Herd 71, UCF 66, Feb. 23, 2008 at Huntington: Knights coach Kirk Speraw was assessed a key technical with 3:16 left, helping stall a rally. Weird stat by 2013 standards: Marshall made 27 of its 32 free throws.Herd 67, UCF 62, Feb. 28, 2009 at Huntington: A season-high of 6,143 at Cam Henderson Center watched Markel Humphrey score 18 points and pull down 12 rebounds for MU. The postgame media gathering watched Speraw tell how an official got in the way of a transition pass, preventing a possible key 3-point shot. The coach abruptly left the media room, saying, "Have a good weekend."Herd 81, UCF 75, Jan. 13, 2010 at Orlando: Before 9,460, still the second-largest crowd in UCF history, Marshall's Hassan Whiteside scored a triple-double of 14 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.Herd 121, UCF 115, 3 OT, Feb. 27, 2010 at Huntington: Whiteside had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 13 blocks for another triple-double in a game that had too many twists to list with brevity. UCF hit two 3-pointers in final 17 seconds to force OT; Dago Pena's tip-in of a missed free throw forced the third OT.UCF 65, Herd 58, Jan. 5, 2011 at Orlando: In first game after Jones switched sides, the Herd is defeated by Marcus Jordan's 26 points in a stifling hot arena with 9,094 on hand. At the time, UCF was undefeated and ranked 18th.Herd 83, UCF 69, March 5, 2011 at Huntington: In his return to the Henderson Center, Jones sneaked into the arena in a different tunnel with a police escort, almost escaping the first round of boos. His Knights continued their plummet from grace, falling behind by 24 before a capacity crowd of 9,036. There were seven technical fouls called in a chippy contest.Marshall 75, UCF 71, Feb. 2, 2013 at Huntington: Nigel Spikes sends back nine UCF shots as the struggling Herd gives its mystified fan base a glimpse of what it can do on a good night.
But there have been a string of bad nights for this team this season, most on the road. MU is 0-9 in "true" road games and 0-12 against Division I opponents away from Huntington.
Because of that, Marshall (11-15, 4-7) is trying to avoid a losing season. It will have to win tonight and sweep the final four to be 16-15 entering the C-USA tournament. UCF (17-8, 7-4), has lost two straight but can split its remaining six to celebrate a 20-win season.
"The two teams have a little bit of history, so it's pretty healthy," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. "It's the last game under the current alignment. We're trying to get some momentum and some traction before heading down the stretch to the conference tournament."BRIEFLY: Almost certainly, Spikes will play his final game in his home state of Florida. The Fort Lauderdale native's nine-block game is the best in C-USA this season. ... Entering the week, Marshall ranked ninth in the nation in offensive rebounds, 14.5 per outing. But the Herd has been outrebounded overall in eight of its last 10 games. ... UCF is celebrating its 100th game at its 6-year-old arena, where it is 78-21. Also, Keith Clanton is scheduled to set the school record by playing in his 124th game. He is starting for the 116th consecutive time.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or at twitter.com/dougsmock.