Morehead State men’s basketball coach Sean Woods raised his hands in the air and shouted over the crowd after the final horn went off in Sunday’s game against Marshall.
The Eagles gave him good reason as his team rallied from 21 points down late in the first half to defeat the Thundering Herd, 102-94, in overtime at Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
“I was getting mad because Marshall’s fans were out-cheering our fans and we’re at home,” Woods said. “I just took it upon myself to wave my hands … we needed them to cheer and when they raised up, they showed out. They were a big reason why we had a chance.”
The Eagles (3-1) got a career-high 24 points from senior guard Bakari Turner off the bench to lead five MSU players in double figures. Sophomore guard Brent Arrington matched Turner’s 24 points.
We saw out in the crowd that there was more green than blue when we came out (during warm-ups),” Turner said. “That gave us fire. … We fought back and got the win. It feels great.”
Marshall (2-1) seemed well in control of the game after its lead ballooned to 48-27 with just a minute left in the first half thanks to 21 first-half fouls committed by MSU. Drew Kelly and Billy Reader each had four fouls before the intermission.
As the second half began, something clicked for the Eagles. After Woods spoke with his team in the locker room, they used a 13-5 run to start the second half and limited their fouls.
“He told us to just focus,” said senior forward Chad Posthumus, who finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. “We didn’t play our best in the first half and the refs got in our head a little bit. We weren’t playing our style. It was do or die in the second half and we figured out a way to win.”
It was back and forth the rest of the way, with Marshall getting a double-digit lead at 73-63 with 7:45 remaining on an Elijah Pittman 3-point basket.
“They came in to our house and really gave it to us in the first half,” Woods said. “Their athleticism gave us some trouble and we had to find a way to slow them down in the second half. Our kids’ resiliency to not quit under some adverse situations (helped us find) a way to win.”
Pittman, who finished with a game-high 31 points, was frustrated with his team’s effort in the second half.
“We have to finish,” Pittman said. “It’s a 40-minute game and we came out in the last 20 minutes like it was over. We could have put it away but we didn’t finish it.”
The Eagles won the rebounding war 40-39 and held a 21-3 advantage in second-chance points. Their bench outscored Marshall’s reserves 41-24 and had 32 points off 26 Herd turnovers.
“We have stat lines like that, we’re not going to lose too many games,” Woods said.
In a game that featured 76 fouls and 105 total free throws made, the frustration was evident on both sides. Marshall was 29-for-43 from the line and Morehead State was 40-of-65.
To Morehead State’s credit, the Eagles hit their free throws when they counted, making 16 straight charity tosses late in the second half and overtime to earn the victory.
“When we got in the huddle (after regulation) we knew free throws would have won us the game in regulation,” Arrington said. “Everybody got their focus face and took deep breaths and knocked them down.”
The Eagles had to hurry late, down 84-77 with 2:18 left. A 3-point shot by both Arrington and Turner combined with a layup by point guard Luka Pajkovic and free throws by Posthumus helped end the second half on a 9-2 run to force overtime.
“They flipped the switch on us,” said Marshall coach Tom Herrion. “They drove it hard and spread us out. We did such a bad job guarding and let them live on the foul line. We didn’t make enough plays down the stretch for a lot of different reasons. We let it slip away from us.”
The Thundering Herd did have a chance to win the game with two free throws by DeVince Boykins with 1.1 seconds left in regulation but he missed both of them.
In the overtime period, 14 of the Eagles’ 16 points came at the foul line.
Woods will take a victory like this any time.
“Everybody that was dressed played a part in this win,” Woods said. “I’m just so proud of our guys. We have a good basketball team and Morehead State is on the rise. Everybody needs to join this party.”