TULSA, Okla. -Marshall's lost basketball season was banked to a discouraging conclusion Wednesday night.
Or a merciful conclusion, some might say.
The best you can say about the Thundering Herd's 66-64 loss to Tulane in the first round of the Conference USA tournament is that it was not nearly as ugly as, say, the 102-46 regular-season debacle at Southern Mississippi or the 91-75 loss at Tulane. But with the memory of the Herd's run to the 2012 C-USA finals still fresh, Wednesday's game represented a long step back.
So did the season, Marshall's first on the losing side since 2008-09.
So what went wrong? The theories are at least as numerous as the 15 losses the Herd suffered away from its cozy Cam Henderson Center home. They include:
The time has probably long passed on that excuse. But is it an excuse?
Marshall coach Tom Herrion wagered much on the freshman and got nothing but a few practices before the NCAA ruled him out. The truth is, coaches must recruit eligible players, especially point guards.
DeAndre Kane stepped over to the point and led the conference in assists, but looked uncomfortable at times handling the ball against pressure. A capable Canty would have had Kane to help him in the backcourt, discouraging presses.
That came into play Wednesday - not that the Herd turned the ball over in the backcourt, but expended energy and shot-clock seconds getting to halfcourt. The field-goal percentage reflected that - MU's 52.2 percent in the first half fell to 42.9 percent in a game where every shot mattered.
Both players recovered from the horrific practice incident, but Goff seemed a fraction of his usually rugged self until late in the season. His 27-point eruption against East Carolina last weekend gave a glimpse of what might have been.
Don't discount Goff's two early fouls in Marshall's setback Wednesday. As happens with big men, he never got untracked from that, playing just 14 minutes with three points and three rebounds.
Nobody expected the Herd to get outrebounded 17 out of 32 games, 12 of 17 times by conference foes, and nobody expected Marshall to go from the penthouse to the outhouse in defending the 3-point shot.
Marshall's second-half switch out of a seemingly hyperactive zone defense can be questioned, certainly. The Herd played its best defense of the year in the first half Wednesday, squashing 3-point attempts and even starting to frustrate Tulane's double-double machine, Josh Davis.
But it was tough to argue for a zone when Tulane's 3-pointers fell. In any strategy, the Green Wave hit seven of its last nine 3-point attempts, including Ricky Tarrant's bank-shot heave that won it.
"The easy thing to say is to go back to the zone, but when they start making 3s, I'm just not comfortable going back to it," said Herrion, who used very little zone in his first year at MU.
Like many teams, the Herd shot better when it penetrated and tried shorter jumpers. Hitting a conference-worst 30.7 percent on 3-pointers, Marshall might have done better not trying any, but that would have been tough against a heavy dose of zones.
(Elijah Pittman summed that up Wednesday, when the ball flew out of his hands on a first-half attempt from the corner. It flew behind him into the first row at the BOK Center.)
The free-throw shooting was tough to stomach, as the Herd was plummeting toward the 50 percent mark. It recovered to hit 70 percent or better in the last four games, but finished the season at 59.8 percent.