HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Staring at the stat sheet, Marshall coach Tom Herrion couldn't believe the rebounding statistics.
Oh, he was certain his team was outboarded in its 68-62 loss Thursday night to Alabama-Birmingham at Cam Henderson Center, but wouldn't have guessed the margin to be "only" 10, 51-41.
Ten wasn't the true margin, Herrion believes, but it was close to how many times he used a certain "p" word in the postgame press conference.
"Ten on the glass is one of the most misleading stats I've seen in recent memory," Herrion said. "We got pummeled on the glass. Pummeled. Pummeled."
OK, so that was only three "pummels" with a fourth slipped in late, but you get the idea. Herrion knew UAB was one of Conference USA's strongest rebounding teams, but thought his team would hang in a little better.
The margin was 33-17 at the half, allowing the Blazers to lead 30-29 despite shooting 28.6 percent. The Herd was held to two offensive rebounds, doubly bad when combined with 0-for-12 shooting from 3-point range.
Marshall did have 11 offensive rebounds in the second-half, scoring 13 second-chance points. But when it needed to rebound a missed free throw in the final minute, it failed not once but twice.
UAB led 63-59 after Ryan Taylor's basket, and the Blazers' Robert Williams was quickly fouled with 40 second left. Williams hit the first and missed the second, and a teammate rose up to slap the ball out front to Jordan Swing.
Eight seconds later, it was Chad Frazier's turn to make the first and miss the second, but the same thing happened - another jump over a Herd player, another rebound slapped out to Swing.
When Rod Rucker split two free throws, the Blazers led 66-59 with 25 seconds left. With those two offensive rebounds, the Blazers scored three points and melted off 15 critical seconds, making a Kareem Canty 3-pointer all but inconsequential.
UAB (16-10, 5-7) had 19 offensive rebounds, and it didn't matter that the Blazers somehow scored only four second-chance points.
The lead changed 13 times and there were 11 ties, with the largest lead by either side seven, that late 66-59 score. Marshall's biggest lead was 8-3, when it looked as if Chris Thomas was going to gash the Blazers every time he got the ball.
He scored 12 of his game-high 22 in the first 8-plus minutes. What was UAB coach Jarod Haase to do about it?
"I yelled and screamed at our guys, and yelled and screamed some more," Haase said. "Another timeout, I yelled and screamed some more. I guess it started to sink in a little bit, but I don't know if we adjusted enough, and he had a big-time game."
Finally, the message sank in and the Blazers did what every other team does against Marshall, switch from man-to-man to zone and dare the Herd to shoot jumpers. Good move - MU was 0 for 12 from 3-point range in the half, contrasted to 11 of 15 2-point shots.
The 3-pointer skid extended to 0 for 15 before Thomas hit an off-balance jumper at the midway point of the second half. A few possessions later, he scored with a brilliant fast-break layup off an equally brilliant pass from Canty to give MU a 48-47 lead. Denzell Watts nailed a quick 3 to give UAB the lead, but Canty hit a jumper for a 50-all tie.
Marshall then allowed UAB to take the lead for good in ignominious fashion. With 7:29 left, Cheikh Sane committed a lane violation on a Fahro Alihodzic missed free throw, allowing the Bosnian to make one with the reprieve. Sane then got the same chance on the second of two missed free throws, but missed all three attempts.
The Herd fell behind by four, but cut the margin to 56-55 with a Canty 3-pointer. But two doubly ugly turnovers and Frazier's rejection of Canty on the fast break allowed UAB to lead 61-55 heading into the final two minutes.
"Defensive transition was our No. 1 key to the game," Haase said. "We wanted to sprint back; first half we were very, very poor at it. In the second half, we had guys sprinting back ... for Chad to do that was good. Maybe he listened."
A six-point deficit proved to be too much to ask of Marshall, particularly, when the Herd couldn't rebound a free throw on the defensive end.
"Our defense was outstanding, even on second-chance [shots]," Herrion said. "You're giving up too many possessions."
Now the Herd must win its remaining four games to avoid a 20-loss season (a postseason loss is a 99.999-plus percent certainty). That question begins the tough way at 2 p.m. Saturday, with C-USA co-leader Middle Tennessee coming to the Henderson Center. The Blue Raiders rained on Charlotte 71-49 on Thursday.
BRIEFLY: After Thomas' 22 points, Canty scored 17, Taylor 11, Sane 8 and Shawn Smith 4. Those were the starters, and they accounted for all of Marshall's 62 points. The bench was skunked for the first time this season ... The Herd has clinched a losing conference season for the second year in a row and the fifth time in nine C-USA seasons.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
UAB 68, HERD 62
Uab (16-10, 5-7)
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