HUNTINGTON — Defense wins, and it did for Marshall on Saturday as its women’s basketball team defeated Conference USA’s leading offense in Alabama-Birmingham, 61-56 at the Cam Henderson Center.
In the win the Thundering Herd (7-8 overall, 2-2 C-USA) was more tenacious in its defense and more efficient with its offense than it showed in Thursday’s lopsided loss to Middle Tennessee.
Marshall still struggled with its 3-point shooting, going 4 of 19 behind the arc, but it limited the Blazers in that area, holding them to 31 percent shooting from the floor and 34.8 percent from 3-point range.
It was the type of win Marshall head coach Tony Kemper said the Herd needed to bounce back from Thursday’s performance.
“That game was won with defense against probably, arguably for sure, the best offensive team in the league,” Kemper said.
UAB (9-7, 1-3) came into the game leading C-USA in points per game (78.9), field goal percentage (46.4), 3-point field goal percentage (41.3) and 3-point field goals per game (9.4) and 3-point field goals made (132). The Blazers rely on Rachael Childress, the league’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game, to lead the 3-point shooting as she is C-USA’s all-time 3-point shooting leader with 371 made.
On Saturday, however, UAB finished 34.8 percent behind the 3-point line on 8-of-23 shooting and 31.0 percent from the field overall, finishing 28 points below its season average. Childress finished with 10 points on 2 of 17 shooting and 1 of 8 from three.
“The things we did to Childress, her 2 for 17, that’s as good as you can guard her,” Kemper said. “She’s one of the best players in our league.”
Kemper said Marshall had just enough offense to pull out the win that now moves the Thundering Herd to a tie for fifth place in the C-USA standings with Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic. MTSU defeated Marshall on Thursday 75-55 in Huntington, but takes on the Hilltoppers in its next home game on Jan. 25.
Kemper said a win over the Blazers, picked fourth in the league’s preseason voting, should give his team the confidence needed to perform well through the rest of the season, including its next game Thursday at Charlotte.
Marshall was led in scoring by Taylor Pearson who rebounded from scoring just 8 points on Thursday against the Blue Raiders to get 17 points. Catlettsburg, Kentucky, native Savannah Wheeler finished with 15 points.
Pearson, a junior from Columbus, Ohio, appeared to be playing in pain Thursday, dealing with a right shoulder injury, but said after Saturday’s game the effects of that injury are minimal.
“It’s more of a mental thing,” Pearson said. “It’s ups and downs, but it’s still attached.”
Wheeler, a freshman, shot 3-of-9 from the floor in the game, including 1-of-3 behind the arc, but was 8-of-8 at the free throw line, hitting key shots down the stretch to protect the Herd’s lead.
“When it comes to games, I think you have to stay locked in,” Wheeler said of hitting the free throws in the high-pressure situation.
As a team, Marshall shot 19-22 from the foul line for 86.4 percent in the game and was 11-of-14 in the final period.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 75, MARSHALL 55: Middle Tennessee trailed only once in its contest on Thursday at Marshall and defeated the Thundering Herd women’s basketball team 75-55 in a Conference USA game at the Cam Henderson Center.
Savannah Wheeler made two free throws for Marshall with 5:44 to play in the first quarter that gave Marshall its only lead of the game at 7-5. Middle Tennessee (10-5 overall, 2-1 CUSA) went on a 9-0 run and banked home a shot as time ran out in the quarter for a 23-12 lead and rolled from there.
Marshall (6-8, 1-2) found itself trailing 44-29 at halftime after Middle Tennessee shot 44 percent from the floor, 16 of 36, including 8 of 18 from 3-point range, also for 44 percent.
The Thundering Herd shot 9 of 31 from the floor and 3 of 18 from 3-point range for 29 percent and 16 percent respectively in the first half. It didn’t get much better for Marshall in the second half.
The Herd finished the game shooting 30 percent from the floor including 11 percent from 3-point range.
“I think when I go back and watch it there were shots we took that I liked,” Marshall head coach Tony Kemper said. “We got the ball to the rim some, didn’t get anything out of it. How do you win a game when you shoot 11 percent from 3? The answer is right there. You don’t. You don’t stay very close and it gets away early.”
Middle Tennessee shut down any possibility of a second-half rally with a 9-2 run by the Blue Raiders through the 6:41 mark of the third period. Though the Blue Raiders got into some foul trouble with its leading scorers, Marshall was unable to use that to its advantage.
Though MTSU, the team picked by coaches in the preseason to finish second in C-USA, did cool off somewhat in the second half, it still finished 37 percent from behind the arc for the game.
The Blue Raiders were led by Anastasia Hayes’ 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, only the second triple-double in program history. Charity Savage was the game’s high scorer for Middle Tennessee with 20 points.
“It was a challenge to defend them,” Marshall guard Kia Sivils said. “They were getting us in transition. We just have to keep our head up for Saturday.”
On Saturday, Alabama-Birmingham comes to Huntington to face the Thundering Herd in what is going to be a tough stretch of conference games. Tipoff for that game is at 1 p.m.
“Tonight was a tough game,” Kemper said. “Saturday is a really good team. After that, it’s on the road against two really good teams, back home against Western (Kentucky). There’s no rest for the weary. There’s no room to go 3 for 27.”
Marshall was led by Wheeler’s 14 points and six rebounds in the loss. Kristen Mayo scored 11 for the Herd.