CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Round one of the new, sort-of-neighborly Marshall-Charlotte rivalry ultimately came down to Pierria' Henry's 3-point attempt in the final seconds Saturday night.
With his 49ers down by three, the former South Charleston standout found himself with the ball in the right corner and an eternity to line up his shot. The 5,525 at Halton Arena were ready to rock.
But the shot rimmed out, Chris Thomas pulled down the rebound and the Thundering Herd escaped with a 59-56 victory.
It was just the third Conference USA victory for Marshall (9-17, 3-8), which escaped a four-team logjam at the wrong end of the standings. And it was only the Herd's the second road win of the season.
"We've gotten kicked in the teeth and our heart broken a lot," said Marshall coach Tom Herrion. "But this great group of young men, they've had great resolve, great toughness, and we found a way."
It was appropriate that the game finished with Thomas dribbling out the clock. Scoring 18 points, he ignited the Herd's comeback from a 30-19 deficit.
The 49ers' largest lead came with 7:51 left, after Henry fed Marcus Bryan for an easy layup. It was Henry's seventh assist, dropping hints that (a) he would blast his career mark of nine away and (b) the Herd would get blasted out of the arena.
Thomas had other ideas, driving to a personal 8-0 run which included two three-point plays. Suddenly, the Herd was awake and the 49ers were turning into a sloppy mess. Thomas drove for another basket and Kareem Canty scored the next five, including a 3-pointer that gave Marshall the lead at 34-32.
Canty, who led all scorers with 21 points, took one final 3-point drive at the end of the second half, but missed. Thomas took the rebound and promptly drove for another basket to beat the buzzer, giving MU a 36-32 lead.
Then something unusual happened in the second half: The Herd did not relinquish the lead. Four minutes into the second half, the 49ers had what proved to be their only chance to seize the advantage, but Willie Clayton clanked two free throws and Shawn Lester missed a jumper with MU up 40-39.
And what happened after Lester's miss? Ryan Taylor plucked the rebound for MU, got it out to Thomas, who beat the defense for an emphatic dunk. That triggered a 10-2 run, giving the Herd its biggest lead, 50-41 with 12:05 left.
"We had a couple of turnovers, a couple of easy buckets that we missed at times," said Charlotte coach Alan Major. "You have a couple of things on the offensive end, and it attaches itself to the defensive end, and makes you a little heavy-legged."