HUNTINGTON — Marshall wanted to make its first unofficial Sun Belt matchup one to remember.
As it turned out, the Thundering Herd made sure Louisiana won’t forget it any time soon, either.
Marshall’s defense turned up its intensity and turned defense to offense quickly in the second half, overcoming a halftime deficit to cruise to a 93-79 win over Louisiana on Tuesday night at Cam Henderson Center.
“I’ve always said defense stops with a bucket at the other end,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “You know you’ve played great defense when you create an offensive bucket on the other end. That’s what we strive to do.”
Marshall (4-1) has always been thought of as an offensive team, but this night was about defense and transition as the Herd produced 32 points off 28 Louisiana turnovers.
Over an eight-minute stretch of the second half, Marshall allowed just two field goals, turning a one-point deficit into a 15-point lead.
Much of the damage was done with the Herd in transition, whether by way of forced turnovers or blocks by Obinna Anochili-Killen, who again changed the game with his presence at the rim.
For the second straight contest, Killen flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. The point and rebound totals were career-highs for Killen.
Killen essentially put the game away midway through the second half when he blocked a pair of Louisiana shots in a five-second stretch. After that point, the Ragin’ Cajuns started hesitating when going to the basket, which led to the offense getting out of sync.
Marshall took full advantage of that hesitation, using active hands in passing lanes to be disruptive and taking the action to the opposite end.
“I’m so proud of our guys because we just kept our composure,” Killen said. “At the end, we executed and got the win.”
The Herd got back-to-back dunks by Killen and Mikel Beyers off feeds from Taevion Kinsey and Andrew Taylor to end of a five-possession surge that doubled the lead and produced an 83-68 advantage with 4:24 left.
Marshall stayed the course defensively, staying active with hands without gambling as much for steals due to Louisiana making the Herd pay for those gambles in the first half.
Despite the lopsided turnover totals, Louisiana took a 47-42 lead into the locker room after a first half in which the Ragin’ Cajuns hit seven of 10 3-pointers.
“I want to know who the shooting coach was from Indiana to here,” D’Antoni said. “I’ve never seen a better remarkable turnaround than that first half. They shoot 70 percent from threes and could not throw it in the ocean the game before.”
Louisiana (3-2) came into the contest more known for its physicality, but the Herd’s ability to battle inside and execute its help defense forced the Ragin’ Cajuns out of system while keeping the bigs — Jordan Brown and Theo Akwuba from getting into rhythm down low.
“I’m proud of these kids,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “It was a physical game — they were a lot bigger than we were — physical game, yet in the paint, (it was) 50 for us, 22 for them. It was a good ballgame.”
In addition to Killen’s big night, Taevion Kinsey showcased his abilities, using his athleticism and creativity to get to the rim for several acrobatic finishes en route to a game-high 21 points.
Darius George added 15 points while Beyers netted 13 in the win. Andrew Taylor had nine points, seven assists and seven steals as well.
The matchup with Louisiana served as a preview of what Marshall’s future will look like in the Sun Belt Conference. The Ragin’ Cajuns were picked to finish second in the Sun Belt in the preseason.
Louisiana was led by Greg Williams, who finished with 18 points. Kentrell Garnett also knocked down all four of his 3-point attempts and finished with 14 in the loss.
Marshall returns to action at 7 p.m. on Saturday when the Herd travels to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana.