HUNTINGTON — With 3:50 to go, Marshall women’s basketball head coach Tony Kemper let out his loudest yell of Saturday’s game against UTEP to his team.
This was not one imploring them, nor directing them in any fashion.
“Yeah, Herd!” Kemper yelled as he clapped while walking out to meet his players following a 7-0 run that extended Marshall’s lead to its biggest lead, forcing UTEP into a timeout.
It was that type of day for Marshall as it got one of its top performances of the year in one of its biggest games to date during a 76-66 win over UTEP in front of 612 fans at Cam Henderson Center.
“How about the Herd?” Kemper said. “It’s a good win. I’m proud of them — quick turnaround to play against a team that is difficult on the offensive end and then difficult on the defensive end, too.”
Marshall (11-13, 6-7 Conference USA) executed well on both ends against UTEP’s tough schemes and fought through its own mistakes to build on its advantage as the game grew on.
The Herd did not trail over the last 27 minutes of action, answering each run that UTEP (13-11, 6-7 Conference USA) had on Saturday.
Kristen Mayo led Marshall on both ends on Saturday, scoring 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, including a dagger 3-pointer with 1:13 left that ended a mini rally by the Miners.
While the offensive game took center stage in the fourth quarter, it was Mayo’s defensive presence against UTEP leading scorer Katarina Zec that loomed just as large.
“I think it’s really good balance of both,” Mayo said. “You can’t have a good game only doing one and not the other. I think a lot of people focus on scoring and, yes, you have to be able to finish, but you also have to be able to lock down who you are guarding. If they are scoring just as many as you, then it’s like zero.”
Mayo and Taylor Pearson combined for 22 of Marshall’s 24 points in the final period with Pearson scoring nine straight and 12 of her 14 points in the fourth as the Herd closed out the important win, which was their fourth in five games.
“The bottom line is, if I look at the stat sheet and these two don’t play well, it’s really hard for us,” Kemper said.
For Pearson, the late performance came after she went down in a scary scene on the first possession of the second half in which she and UTEP’s Sabine Lipe collided head-to-head.
At the time, Pearson was scoreless and the Herd led by just two when she was forced to the locker room for evaluation. Upon returning, though, Pearson maintained her aggressiveness and got into a rhythm.
“It was still keeping the same mindset once I was eventually able to get back into the game,” Pearson said.
It was all part of a second half in which the Herd women shot 60 percent from the floor while committing just six turnovers — a big victory against a UTEP team that came in forcing the most turnovers in the league at 19.5 per game.
Mayo credited freshman Savannah Wheeler with showing poise against the pressure of the Miners and getting the Herd into its offense, which finished with strong numbers throughout. Wheeler finished with 16 points and five assists.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Savannah,” Mayo said. “She’s the one who handles the ball most of the game and she’s got that pressure to take care of.”
Marshall turned the game’s momentum in the third quarter on the defensive end.
With Mayo keeping Zec largely out of the equation, the Miners struggled to find any answers as the Herd kept UTEP to two field goals over a nine-minute stretch that turned a one-possession game into a 13-point advantage following a 3-pointer by Khadaijia Brooks (12 points) late in the third.
The lead never got below nine points the rest of the way.
Marshall’s bench contributions led the Herd to a 31-28 lead — most notably from guard Kia Sivils, who had five steals in the first half to hound UTEP’s guards with Zec out of the equation.
Wheeler scored 10 of her 16 points in the first 15 minutes of the contest to lead Marshall early.
Marshall now takes momentum into a road contest at Western Kentucky on Thursday night.
MARSHALL 66, UTSA 53: On a night where the offense didn’t get in a great flow, Marshall’s women’s basketball team made sure its defense stayed consistent.
The Herd limited UTSA to 33 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers while not allowing a field goal in long stretches during a 66-53 win over the Roadrunners at Cam Henderson Center on Thursday night.
“Good, solid win,” Marshall head coach Tony Kemper said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough and we needed it.”
Marshall (10-13, 5-7 Conference USA) got a balanced scoring effort to earn the win, which was the team’s third in four C-USA contests.
Taylor Pearson and Savannah Wheeler each led the way with 13 points while the Herd got needed post points from Khadaijia Brooks, Princess Clemons and Lorelei Roper.
Brooks had 11 points on an efficient 3-of-4 shooting performance.The senior showed poise on a night where the Herd forced some shots — especially early.
“This was one of the games where I felt like I was productive,” Brooks said. “I didn’t really press, but I was effective.”
On a night where Kemper felt most of the offensive players forced the issue, he said his senior steadied the ship.
“I really appreciate her tonight because she led in the right way,” Kemper said.
Clemons added 10 points and five rebounds while leading the Herd’s defense with five steals, as well.
Marshall’s offense wasn’t exactly fluid throughout, shooting just 32 percent, but the Herd made a concerted effort in the second half to improve its efficiency with effective results.
After hitting just 4-of-23 3-point attempts in the first half, Marshall shot just six in the second half and connected on three of them.
Instead of forcing shots, the Herd opted to attack the rim and got to the foul line with consistency. Marshall was rewarded for its efforts, knocking down all 17 attempts from the line.
“I think that’s probably the key to this game when you look at the stats — we got there and we made them all,” Kemper said. “If you go 12-for-17 or something, this thing is tight.”
While Marshall shot poorly from the outside in the first half, it got its biggest downtown connection of the game just before halftime.
After freshman Paige Shy collected an offensive rebound between three UTSA players, Shy kicked out to Wheeler, who knocked down a 3-pointer that set the halftime score at 28-22 and ended a drought of more than four minutes in which the Roadrunners had cut a 12-point lead to three points.
“I thought it was important — maybe even just for me, like, sanity,” Kemper said. “It was nice to be up six instead of three because I just felt like, ‘Gosh, guys, we’re making it harder than we need to.’”
Wheeler’s 3-pointer appeared to stem momentum back the Herd’s way as Marshall started the second half on a 12-3 run and never looked back.
Following the run to open the third quarter, the lead dipped under double-figures just once — that coming after three consecutive 3-pointers from Karrington Donald late in the fourth quarter that cut the advantage from 18 to nine.
Donald finished with a game-high 21 points for UTSA (6-17, 2-10 Conference USA), but also had seven turnovers. Evelyn Omemmah added 14 points and eight rebounds in the loss.
UTSA jumped out to a 7-0 advantage, but Roper was able to get on track early to help the Herd in a strong surge late in the first quarter.
Roper scored Marshall’s first six points of the contest and had two baskets to propel a 21-2 run over 10 minute of action in which the Herd turned an early 9-2 deficit into a 23-11 advantage.
Roper, who came in averaging 1.9 points and 2.2 rebounds, had eight points and a career-high 10 rebounds in the win.