HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's opening win Friday night over South Carolina State was one part sloppiness, one part opening jitters and several parts domination.
Elijah Pittman supplied much of that last item, scoring a career-high 31 points in the Thundering Herd's 85-69 win over the Bulldogs. Ryan Taylor had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Kareem Canty had 15 points and five assists.
The 5,067 at Cam Henderson Center left knowing how deceptive the final margin was. The Thundering Herd overran the Bulldogs in the first 11 minutes of the second half, taking a 77-45 lead.
"Thought we did an excellent job stretching it to 30-plus," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "We did a poor job maintaining, took our foot off the gas, sloppy down the stretch. Offensively, we played way too quick and fast, and we shot on one touch, too many 3s. I didn't like us on offense.
"We settled in and Taylor was a big component against the zone. He attacked from the high post and really bothered them. The press, I thought, just wore them down."
Pittman broke his old career high of 23 points, set last season against Tulane, along with career bests for field goals made (nine), 3-pointers made (five), made free throws (eight) and attempted (15). The final line: 9 of 17 from the floor, 5 of 11 from 3-point range, 8 of 15 from the line in 29 minutes. He also had four steals.
The Herd's lone returning starter from 2012-13 was feeling it from outside.
"My teammates, they kept helping me, they gave me the ball. They realized I was hot," Pittman said. "It's all a team thing."
Marshall struggled early before running out to a 44-30 halftime lead and then flamboyantly dropping the hammer on the visitors from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
The first half ended plenty well for the Herd. In one stretch, Pittman flew through three defenders for a fast-break dunk and rejected Luka Radovic at the other end. Chris Thomas got in the act, throwing a behind-the-head pass to Taylor for a slam. Then Thomas stole the ball and fired a long pass to Pittman for a 42-27 lead.
MU put on a 9-2 run to start the second half, started by Taylor's powerful move to the bucket. The final dagger was an entertaining 17-4 run that gave the Herd a 74-43 lead, as Pittman fired his fifth 3-pointer and added a three-point play.
At the under-eight radio timeout, the Herd was outshooting the Bulldogs 46.2 percent to 33.3 percent, owned a 38-37 edge in rebounding and had forced 18 turnovers, 12 on steals. At 77-48, the only issue how wide that lead would grow.
Or shrink, as it happened. As Marshall finished 2 of 12 from the floor, gave up six offensive rebounds and didn't force another turnover, SC State hustled to shave the lead down to the final margin of 16.
Herrion was unhappy with the final rebounding deficit (51-46, 20-15 offensive) and the 3-point shooting (7 of 30). Take away Pittman's 5 of 11 and Canty's 2 of 5, and the rest of the team went 0 for 14.
"We're no mosaic or oil painting, by any stretch," Herrion said. "We're more like water colors."
Matthew Hezeikiah led the Bulldogs, who used 15 players, with 19 points.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
MARSHALL 85, SC STATE 69
FG FT Reb
SC STATE Min M-A M-A O-T A PF PTS
White 20 1-5 2-2 0-2 3 4 4
Adams 12 2-5 0-2 0-1 0 4 5
Myers 11 1-2 0-0 1-4 2 3 2
Hezekiah 27 9-13 1-3 3-6 1 2 19
Palmer 18 2-8 0-1 3-8 0 4 4
Stephens 10 2-5 0-0 2-4 2 0 6
Smith 21 2-7 0-0 0-3 1 2 6
Kirksey 13 1-3 4-7 1-3 0 0 6