— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — With Marshall down 79-68 to Georgia Southern with 1:38 left to play, some Thundering Herd fans in the sellout crowd of 5,711 decided to leave Cam Henderson Center early and beat the traffic home on an apparent disappointing night.
As Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey put it, too bad for the Herd fans who had to listen to, or read about, one unbelievable comeback that saw Andrew Taylor’s scoop-and-score with 14.4 seconds left put the home team ahead. The Eagles made one last turnover with 6 seconds left to allow the Herd to escape with the 84-83 victory.
“Down 11 and people start to leave,” Kinsey said. “If you left, too bad for you. You missed a good game. That’s as loud as I’ve ever heard at the end of a game. It helped us. We needed that. Thanks.”
With its 22nd win, Marshall (22-6, 11-4 Sun Belt Conference) achieved the most single-season wins under a Dan D’Antoni-coached team.
Marshall is now a game out of first as South Alabama clobbered league-leader Southern Miss, 85-54, to put the Eagles at 12-3 in the Sun Belt with three games left. Georgia Southern is 14-14, 7-8 in the Sun Belt.
The game featured 51 fouls, including a technical on each team, and the Eagles had four foul out including three starting guards. When they left, the Herd capitalized.
“With their ball handlers gone, there was no one out there,” Kinsey said. “Their other guys couldn’t do it alone. It was our time. It was our energy at the end.”
Ama Augillard made two free throws with 33 seconds left to put Georgia Southern ahead 83-80. Kinsey countered with a score in the paint with 28.2 seconds to play and the Herd then called time. On the inbounds pass, the Eagles tried to make a run up the floor, but the ball got kicked out of bounds. The initial call was ball out by a Marshall player. After a review, the officials reversed the call and the Herd got the ball with 25 seconds to play. Marshall worked the clock and Taylor got free for a patented scoop shot to put Marshall ahead and make the Henderson Center one loud place.
Then the Eagles, working for a final shot, made a turnover instead with Andrei Savrasov losing the ball in traffic. Obinna Anochili-Killen grabbed it, time ran out and Herd players and staff on the bench charged onto the floor for a wild celebration. Georgia Southern finished with five scholarship players, including three freshmen. Kaden Archie missed the game due to an illness. Tai Strickland left with an injury midway through the second half. And Jalen Finch, Kamari Brown, Tyren Moore and Carlos Curry all fouled out in the second half. That kind of explains the five total turnovers in the final 1:18, including four after Brown and Moore fouled out.
“Staying level headed was the big key for a lot of us,” Taylor said. “We got the shot we wanted. It was keep going and we proved ourselves at the end. We didn’t give up.”
Marshall trailed 38-27 at the half and made just one of 10 threes.
The Herd knew 20 minutes remained and made the most of it. And Kamdyn Curfman, who had just two threes for six points, nailed one with 45 seconds left to get the Herd within one (79-78). He then made the read on Savrasov, forced him to bobble the ball and then lose it and with that the game.
“That doesn’t apply to this team,” Taylor said about getting down about shooting lulls. “That was the first half. Keep playing. I’m very thankful tonight went our way. Kam pressed up on the guy, read the scouting report and got the job done. Twenty-two regular-season wins under Dan (coach D’Antoni) wow. Marshall and Dan changed my life. This dude (Kinsey standing to his left in the interview) is about to go (pro).”
“This team has built the chemistry where it should be,” Kinsey said. “It’s how we stay together, push through to get to the record we’re at.”
Kinsey said bench production late made a difference. The Eagles did lead in bench points, 30-12. The Herd led in points off turnovers, 25-14.
“Whoever’s bench produced more,” Kinsey said. “We did at the end. They had the bench to start. Our guys were ready. We prepare that way.”
Taylor, named Sun Belt Conference player of the week and the Lou Henson National Player of the Week earlier for big games in two road wins last week, finished with 28 points, including 8-of-10 free throws. Kinsey added 25.
Savrasov led the Eagles with 20 points. Moore added 16 and Strickland 13.
D’Antoni knows one of biggest shots in the closing run came from Curfman, the three-point specialist and transfer from VMI who had struggled up to that moment.
“Kam’s missing every shot. Killing you, killing you and then he kills you with the big one,” D’Antoni said. “Let Kam play. Let Andy and TK play. They didn’t quit. They nice job of managing the game. A big thing was they lost three guards. Andy’s shot … he throws it up and it goes in. He does that every day in practice. Let him be great. Let all the players be great.
“We came out flat obviously. We have to get ready mentally. They’re a very physical team. They’ve got bodies. They’re athletic.”
Herd assistant Cornelius Jackson missed the game due to an illness. DAntoni said the infection is being treated and he could be back by Saturday when the Herd takes on Troy in Kinsey’s final home game. Tip is 7 p.m. Marshall’s home mark is 14-2.
“Can’t get too high, too low,” Kinsey said. “We don’t want to be in that position again. Right now the thought is on Saturday and who comes in here.”
The two teams once were rivals in the Southern Conference. Marshall leads the overall series, 11-3 (7-0 on its home floor). The Eagles won the first meeting on their floor, 81-76, on Jan. 5. They had won four straight by one point. Thursday’s game was the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity game for Marshall.