HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As notorious as Marshall is for letdown games immediately after playing West Virginia, Tom Herrion thought this Saturday night would be different.
As 5,152 fans witnessed at Cam Henderson Center, it started out being even worse. Fortunately for their sanity, the Thundering Herd righted itself in the second half and pulled away late, taking a 69-63 victory over one-win Coppin State.
"I'm really a little surprised at how we played early in the game," said Herrion, MU's third-year coach. "Because [Friday] was one of our best practices in the last four weeks. I really believe, usually, you play the way you practice. We were really good [Friday]."
Early in Saturday's game? Not so good, as the visiting Eagles charged to a 19-7 lead and took a 34-26 lead into the intermission. It took the Herd 17-plus minutes of the second half to finally establish who was boss.
In the end, D.D. Scarver had 20 points, including two killer 3-pointers down the stretch. Dennis Tinnon had 15 points and 15 rebounds, giving the Herd the lead for good with a five-point barrage with 2:45 left. Elijah Pittman had 14 points, DeAndre Kane had 11 assists and the Herd pummeled the Eagles in rebounding.
All was well that ended well for Marshall (6-4), but it's nearly impossible to get the opening minutes out of mind.
It took Marshall nearly four minutes to score its first basket, despite five offensive rebounds. All that board dominance gave the Herd was the opportunity to miss its first eight shots, with two turnovers.
Coppin's first six possessions: layup, dunk, missed layup, dunk, charging foul, dunk. It was enough to make Herrion want to dunk his players into a water bucket, but he instead called two timeouts in the first 2:31.
"I don't think I've ever used two timeouts that quickly in a game," Herrion said.
The Eagles shot 53.8 percent in the half, hitting 5 of 9 from 3-point range. Marshall shot 31.6 percent from the floor, hoisting 16 3-pointers and making just two. While that is too many 3s for Herrion's liking, you could argue this: With the Herd missing 14 shots around the basket, you might as well fling it from the arc.
Nigel Spikes finished with six of his 11 rebounds on the offensive end, but had only one of his six points on putback efforts. Overall, Marshall's 20 offensive boards produced just 10 second-chance points.
That has been a painful trend for this team. Against WVU, 10 offensive rebounds produced two second-chance points; in two wins before that, MU scored just 24 points on 41 offensive boards.
"I get really upset when I miss the easy putback, little bunnies around the rim," Tinnon said. "With Nigel and the post men, and even the guards, when you miss that close to the rim, it's really frustrating."
The second half went much better for the Herd, as it shot 58.3 percent from the floor, buried five of its nine 3-point attempts and committed only four turnovers after the break. Defensively, the Herd used a 2-2-1 trap to cool off the Eagles to 40 percent shooting, coming up with six key turnovers.
DeVince Boykins, playing a career-high 11 minutes, stole the ball from Patrick Cole and fed Pittman for an alley-oop dunk to tie the game at 46. Pittman gave the Herd its first lead, 49-48, with a 3-pointer with 9:51 left.
Coppin scored seven straight to lead 55-49 and could have padded that, but Michael Murray couldn't put back a rebound of a missed free throw. The Herd dashed the other way, with Scarver spotting up for a quick 3-pointer. After Murray answered with a tap-in, Scarver buried another long shot.
"The biggest thing is we were supposed to find No. 23," Coppin State coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell said, referring to Scarver. "We're still looking for him."
Marshall was still down 59-57, but Tinnon fixed that with a three-point play with 2:45 left. Fifteen seconds later, he scored off a feed by Pittman, set up by a Kane steal.
With 1:02 left, Tinnon needed two tries on a stickback, but got one to fall, giving Marshall a 63-59 lead. The Eagles' luck ran out, as they missed two 3-pointers, Cole committed his eighth turnover and Marshall sank six straight free throws to close it out.
"We played [against] 32 minutes of zone, which is good for us," Herrion estimated. "Without watching the tape, I'm going to guess 90 percent of our shots were good shots. We're just not making them.
"But when you have 21 assists on 26 baskets, it shows you're moving the ball, sharing the ball. We just painfully can't finish around the rim right now - missing dunks, stickbacks. So that makes life hard for you."
Final exams begin Wednesday at MU, but the Herd faces one big on-court test next Saturday, when 11th-ranked Cincinnati comes to the Charleston Civic Center. Tipoff time is 2 p.m., with the game airing on CBS Sports Network.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Marshall 69, Coppin State 63
COPPIN STATE (1-8)
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