Early in the fourth quarter of the Owls' 57-50 non-conference setback to visiting Warrensburg, all-NCMC guard and senior captain Alex Maupin crashed to the floor with a potentially season-ending injury. The scene turned ugly before he could be carted out on a stretcher, but the game ended without further incident.
At that point, Marshall trailed by 14 points and couldn't catch up, despite a strong effort.
"We're a little down, because we lost a family member," MHS head coach Jason Varner reflected afterwards. "We spend a lot of time together throughout the year, so it's tough right now. But I know we'll be all right."
Although Varner said his team "came out with intensity" to open the game, the Owls were afflicted with the turnover bug from the start. Marshall coughed the ball up 10 times in the first quarter, and the Tigers -- behind a combined 11 points from juniors Kye Denker and Dakota Jones -- turned that into a 15-10 lead.
"We didn't make good, smart passes," Varner explained. "We tried to make the home run pass most of the time. We're going to fix that."
Two buckets by senior Dalton Thompson and another by Jones had Warrensburg up by seven points midway through the second period, but the Owls got three-pointers from sophomores Conner Cooley and Logan Harris to head into the break down by only two.
Marshall came out of the break by turning the ball over on four of its first seven possessions, and were unable to make a lay-up during the third frame -- although a pair of Cooley bombs kept the contest close until the Tigers closed the period with a 10-2 run, including Denker's turnaround 21-footer at the buzzer.
Only 23 seconds into the fourth quarter, Maupin was trailing the play when he was bumped by a Warrensburg player near mid-court, a foul which went uncalled. As Maupin tried to brace himself, a loud snap was heard on the sidelines and medical attention was given to his left fibula.
While Maupin was being attended to, referee Bobby Edwards found himself in an altercation with two generations of angry Maupin men, although all parties were restrained before the conflict could escalate. The officials and teams were removed from the gym during the 30-minute delay and prior to play resuming Marshall athletic director Caleb Crawford cooled emotions by addressing the crowd,
"This is when family comes together," Varner implored the Owls before they took the court, and they responded -- although couldn't keep the visitors from pushing the margin to 18 points with a quick 5-1 spurt.
"They came out with a little more fire," Varner said. "That's what I asked of them. When someone goes down, we've all got to step up together."
Junior Zach Glassmaker's drive to the hole with six minutes remaining got Marshall kick-started, closing out with an 18-7 surge. Harris got a stick-back, while sophomore Lance Thomas and Cooley connected from outside.
The Owls only made six of 20 two-point attempts during the game, but were eight of 16 from beyond the arc.
"When we get into the lane and kick it out, we've got some real good shooters," Varner said. The Owls also held a 29-21 rebounding edge because "they blocked out a whole lot better than they have all year."
Denker had a game-high 22 points, and also topped the Tigers (4-3) with five boards and four steals.
Cooley wound up with 17 points, Glassmaker had 10 and Harris contributed eight points and 10 rebounds for Marshall (2-6) -- which will try to fix the flaws displayed during its current four-game losing streak when the season continues Jan. 8 at Kirksville.
The Owls will also have to adjust to playing without Maupin, their leading scorer (15.3 points per game) and rebounder (8.4 rpg).
"We've got to come together defensively. That's something we had to do whether we had 'Maup' or not," Varner noted. "Once we get better defensively, I think everything comes together."