HUNTINGTON — The look on the face of Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said it all as he walked into the postgame press conference.
D’Antoni was smiling, but he was exhausted after sweating out an 83-79 overtime win for his Marshall team over Louisiana Tech on Saturday night at Cam Henderson Center.
“All right, all right, all right,” D’Antoni said with a laugh as he walked in. “Can I have a bourbon?”
It was that type of night for the Thundering Herd, who overcame an 11-point second-half deficit and nearly blew a late second-half lead on account of poor foul shooting before making the plays in the extra session to get the victory.
And make no mistake. Marshall (12-13, 6-6 Conference USA) needed every single play to get past Louisiana Tech, which kept coming right down to the final seconds.
The biggest shot of the game came from the Herd’s most likely source as point guard Jarrod West hit a step-back 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to put Marshall up 80-76 with 1:04 left in overtime. West finished with a game-high 25 points to go with seven assists and three steals.
But it was the heroics of a teammate — Marshall forward Mikel Beyers — that West wanted to talk about following the game.
Beyers came off the bench for his first extended time since early in the season and scored 24 points — 21 in the second half and overtime — to propel Marshall’s comeback.
“That’s a huge confidence-builder for Mike,” West said. “That’s a great win and a great game by him. He played excellent and did exactly what we needed him to do — come in and hit shots. He contested shots at the rim and made right decisions.”
Coming into the game, Beyers had hit just 11 3-pointers for the entire season, but he connected on six in the contest with five coming after halftime.
His biggest shot, though, was one of his two connections from inside the arc — an offensive rebound and fadeaway 8-footer with 5.4 seconds left that knotted the game at 68.
Beyers joked about the shot following the win.
“I saw the ball was coming short and I didn’t know how much time was left,” Beyers said. “I came down and I work on that shot a lot, even though the coaches get onto me because it’s not a great shot, but I guess all the practice paid off.”
The win against Louisiana Tech looked strikingly similar to Thursday night’s victory over Southern Miss from a defensive standpoint with the Herd locking Louisiana Tech’s guards down in the final 11 minutes, allowing just three field goals to force the overtime session.
Louisiana Tech led 53-44 with 10:56 left, but the trio of Beyers, West and Taevion Kinsey combined for all the points during a 13-1 run that produced the Herd’s first lead since early in the first half.
Kinsey, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, had back-to-back baskets to produce a 57-54 lead at the end of the run, but foul shooting helped the Bulldogs stay in it.
Louisiana Tech was 19 of 29 from the line while Marshall struggled to an 8-of-18 clip, which included Kinsey and West combining to go 4 of 12.
Foul trouble plagued Marshall early as center Iran Bennett picked up two quick fouls in the game’s first three minutes and went to the bench, forcing the Herd into a smaller lineup.
Louisiana Tech took full advantage of the Herd’s lack of size with centers Mo Muhammad and Andrew Gordon combining to go 11 of 11 from the floor. Muhammad finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Gordon added 12 points and eight rebounds. Much of that effort came in the first half, however, as Louisiana Tech doubled Marshall up on the glass en route to a 31-27 halftime advantage.
The Herd did a much better job of getting on the glass in the second half and overtime, actually outrebounding the Bulldogs, which aided the comeback.
“We send a big to protect the rim, and we’ve got to come in behind him (to rebound),” D’Antoni said. “A couple of times we didn’t, but for the most part, we started doing it and getting in behind those guys to protect the guys going to block.”
Keeping Louisiana Tech’s post players off the glass was pivotal as Marshall continued to play strong defense against the Bulldogs’ guards behind West, Kinsey and Andrew Taylor.
DaQuan Bracey, a preseason Conference USA selection, finished 3 of 12 for 10 points while turning the ball over four times in the loss. Marshall forced Louisiana Tech (17-7, 8-4 Conference USA) into 18 turnovers.
The Bulldogs were led by Kalob Ledoux, who scored 16 points off the bench. JaColby Pemberton joined Muhammed and Gordon with 12 points while Amorie Archibald added 11, but was limited to 3-of-11 shooting.
The contest was Marshall’s final home game before Conference USA’s Bonus Play, which gets finalized following the Herd’s road swing next week.
Marshall travels to Texas next week for a pair of games, taking on UTSA at 9 p.m. on Thursday night before traveling to El Paso to take on UTEP at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
MARSHALL 72, SOUTHERN MISS 58: Just how big is Marshall University center Iran Bennett?
He has his own fan club in the stands at Cam Henderson Center.
The 6-foot-10, 310-pound sophomore showed why, shouldering the load for the Thundering Herd in the second half and MU’s defense kept Southern Miss without a point for the final six minutes en route to a 72-58 win over the Golden Eagles in front of 5,528 spectators Thursday night.
“We just (didn’t) want to lose,” Bennett said. “We sat down, focused, got stops and made shots on the other end.”
Bennett left the game at the 13:49 mark after tweaking his knee — an injury that scared the Marshall faithful, considering that fellow center Goran Miladinovic missed the contest with an ankle injury suffered in practice on Tuesday.
With Miladinovic out, Bennett overcame the injury and stepped up his game, logging 18 points and 12 rebounds — nine offensive — in 33 minutes to lead the Herd.
“When they don’t double I, those are the numbers you are going to get,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “What was he — 18 points and (12) boards. It’s amazing, too. When he’s scoring, how many rebounds he gets.”
Once Bennett returned with 11:42 remaining, he was a force on both ends of the floor, out-scoring Southern Miss (7-17, 3-8 C-USA) for the remainder of the game 8-6.
The Golden Eagles made just three field goals in the final 11:48, which included going scoreless over the final 6:13 of the game.
While Bennett was a force inside, the game’s momentum changed on account of freshman Marko Sarenac, who came up huge around the same time that Bennett re-entered the game following his injury.
Southern Miss was in the midst of a 15-1 run that turned a seven-point Marshall lead into a 52-45 deficit when Sarenac ended the run with a 3-pointer from the corner to get the Herd on track.
It was the first of four 3-pointers for Sarenac in a six-minute stretch that turned the game.
“Have to really give a big shout-out to Marko...,” Marshall guard Taevion Kinsey said. “He came in and was hitting some big shots.”
Sarenac hit three of those 3-pointers during a quick 11-2 burst — the third of which came with a hand in his face with 9:10 left to give Marshall a 56-54 lead. The Herd didn’t trail again in the contest.
Much of Marshall’s late run came on account of the Herd being the fresher team. D’Antoni’s substitution patterns kept players fresh, which factored largely against Southern Miss, which saw its starting five all play at least 32 minutes.
“Those breaks were pretty big for us,” Kinsey said.” It allowed me to catch my second wind — a lot of guys to get their second wind — and we finished the game.”
While Sarenac was able to find his mark in the second half, Marshall struggled from the outside in the game, hitting just 10 of 35 3-point attempts. The Herd countered the poor shooting by winning the rebounding battle and limiting its turnovers to nine, which is the top effort of the season.
“If you win by (14), you better just put the game in your pocket and shut the heck up,” D’Antoni said.
Marshall’s inability to find its mark early in the second half helped Southern Miss get back into the contest after the Golden Eagles trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.
Leonard Harper-Baker scored 10 straight points to start the 15-1 run, including a 3-pointer at the 13:25 mark that gave Southern Miss its first lead since two minutes into the game.
Harper-Baker led the Eagles with 18 points and 14 rebounds while adding five assists. Gabe Watson scored 15 points while Tyler Stevenson netted 10 points.
Much of Marshall’s defensive success came on account of limiting LaDavius Draine — a leading 3-point threat for the Golden Eagles — to just nine points.
“Draine didn’t kill us this time and defensively, toward the end, we shut them down,” D’Antoni said. “He had about 30 on us here last year.”
Kinsey, who drew praise from D’Antoni for his defensive job on Draine, added 16 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Jarrod West scored 14 points to go with Sarenac’s 12.
The game was filled with runs on both sides with the Herd getting the game’s first and last.
Marshall used a 16-2 run propelled by Kinsey and Bennett, to take a double-digit advantage early, but Southern Miss used a 10-0 run of its own to trim the deficit to 35-29 at the half.