HUNTINGTON — Sporting a bandage on the side of his cheek, Marshall guard Taevion Kinsey walked into interviews with a smile following Friday night’s contest with Wright State.
“That felt like a boxing match,” said Kinsey. “It definitely felt like a boxing match.”
Friday night’s fight ended with Kinsey and the Thundering Herd landing a few more punches as Marshall (1-0) opened the season with a 96-88 win over the Raiders in front of 4,781 fans at Cam Henderson Center.
With the game in the balance, Kinsey took over the final five minutes by getting to the rim to draws fouls or extra defenders that left backside rebounds open.
Kinsey finished a perfect 14-of-14 from the free throw line, including hitting 10 in the final five minutes while a pair of his misses turned into dunks for the Herd that kept the team’s first normal-sized crowd in nearly two years on their feet late.
“Taevion was aggressive and ends up getting to the foul line to seal the game for us,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “That’s kind of the way we’ve got to be. It was a real good win against a quality opponent.”
Wright State (1-1) led by as many as eight in the second half, thanks to a career-high 37 points from Grant Basile, but Kinsey’s free throws with 4:46 left gave Marshall a 78-77 lead.
It was part of a 13-3 run that helped the Herd take control.
Defense is what propelled the Herd to the win, especially in the final eight minutes as the Herd turned things around.
After Basile scored seven straight to push the Raiders to their largest lead, Marshall’s defense started to assert itself down low with Obinna Anochili-Killen, Mikel Beyers and Marko Sarenac all contributing greatly down the stretch.
“We really upped the defense at the end,” D’Antoni said. “Marko had a couple blocks, Obinna came in with a couple good ones, and I thought we played well down the wire.”
Killen’s impact may have been the largest with a pair of blocks off the helpside and a pair of offensive rebound putbacks that loomed large.
In a 45-second stretch, Killen had a pair of blocks, and Sarenac added one that sent the team to the under-8 media timeout with momentum.
Kinsey said the huddle at the under-8 timeout was special for a team in its first game.
“Everybody looked at each other and was like, ‘I got him. I got him,’ “ Kinsey said. “When you have a team full of guys who want to step up to the challenge, that’s going to go a long way. Every guy who got in the game to guard him down the stretch stopped him.”
Killen out-muscled Basile for an offensive rebound that led to a 3-point play and Basile’s fourth foul, and Beyers drew the fifth foul on a Basile charge two trips later that sent him to the bench.
Wheelersburg, Ohio, native Tanner Holden did his best to keep Wright State in the game, but his 25 points were not enough as Marshall earned the win.
To say the game was spirited would be an understatement with Holden and Marshall’s players jawing from the opening tip. Holden’s father, Rodney, is one of Marshall’s all-time great rebounders, which added to the atmosphere as he watched his son play on the Henderson Center floor.
Marshall jumped out early, using its defense in the early going to force several Wright State turnovers which turned to transition as the Herd took a 17-6 lead following a Kinsey elbow jumper.
Wright State fought back, however, taking a 43-38 late in the first half before freshman Aymeric Toussaint scored five straight for the Herd to knot the game at 43 at the half.
Toussaint’s performance was one of several strong outings for the balanced Herd in the opener.
Marshall finished with six players in double-figures. In addition to Kinsey’s 22, the Herd got 15 points and 11 assists from Andrew Taylor.
Toussaint added 13 off the bench while Killen and Darius George each added 11. Goran Miladinovic also had 10 in the win.
Marshall returns to action Monday night as the Herd hosts Milligan at 7 p.m.