"They're better than their record. They've got a great offensive rebounding team; they hurt us on weak side rebounding. They've got good players. Stop looking at records. Each game, by itself . . . we've got tremendous parity."
Tiger coach Josh Pastner was in all-out defend-Conference USA-mode following his team's narrow victory this afternoon over Marshall, the same Thundering Herd team that lost by 56 points at Southern Miss last Wednesday. A Thundering Herd team (now 9-12) that has also lost by 28 at Kentucky and 37 at Ohio (a team Memphis beat by 26). Despite starting a pair of all-conference candidates in DeAndre Kane and Dennis Tinnon, Marshall has now lost six of its last eight games and four straight against Memphis (including last year's C-USA tournament championship).
Memphis junior Joe Jackson had a six-word answer when asked how a team as seemingly talented as Marshall can be losing so regularly: "They don't have a point guard."
The Tigers, in contrast, do have a point guard, and Jackson emphasized such with his 15th consecutive game in double figures on the scoreboard (16 points). He missed a late free throw that made the game tighter than it might have been (Geron Johnson missed two), but led the Tigers with five assists and only had two turnovers.
Memphis took a 10-point lead on a Tarik Black put-back 13 minutes into the game, but then watched the Herd rally on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 31. An Adonis Thomas trey and acrobatic leaner from Jackson helped the Tigers finish the first half on a 7-2 run and a 38-33 lead.
Marshall kept the score within four or five points throughout the second half, closing within one inside the final two minutes, but never taking the lead. Two Black free throws gave the Tigers a 70-67 lead with 1:18 to play, but the junior center was called for goaltending at the other end to again bring Marshall within a point.
Kane missed two short field-goal attempts inside the final minute and, after Johnson missed those two free throws, Elijah Pittman missed a three-point attempt from the right wing that would have given Marshall the lead with 13 seconds left. Chris Crawford grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and hit both shots, which proved critical when Kane buried a three-pointer as time expired. (Pastner protested the clock management, as 1.9 seconds was left when the Herd inbounded the ball after Crawford's free throws.)
Adonis Thomas (15 points) and Shaq Goodwin (11) joined Jackson in double figures for the Tigers while Kane led Marshall with 22 points and D.D. Scarver added 20. Each team hit seven three pointers. Marshall had 39 rebounds to the Tigers' 33.
"It's not easy to win ten in a row," emphasized Pastner. "We've gotten better since the Bahamas [in November]. We've got to keep it going. There is a lot of basketball to be played. The next game — at East Carolina — is the most important game."
"We knew this was going to be a battle," added Black. "No matter what happened the game before. They have so much size and length on the inside; most teams don't have that. It was tough. They won 50-50 balls. They're a tough team to play against." Black had eight points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
The Tigers, now 16-3, travel to East Carolina next Wednesday, then return to FedExForum next Saturday to face Tulsa. (Memphis and Marshall will meet again in West Virginia on February 16th.)