However, the final frame proved to be a disaster, the Owls going without a field goal while out-scored by Kirksville, 18-4, for a season-ending 53-44 loss.
It's cruel how one bad stretch can end an otherwise commendable campaign so sourly. After winning only six games as freshmen, the Marshall seniors finished with a 12-win season.
"We had a great year," declared the Owls' rookie head coach, Jason Varner. "I was proud of the way we fought."
After the Tigers made the game's first basket, Marshall went on 13-5 run as junior Zach Glassmaker hit a jumper and dished out three assists -- two setting up three-pointers for sophomore Logan Harris and senior Ben Valencia.
Kirksville responded with its own 13-5 stretch to tie the game on senior Austin Motley's bomb midway through the second period, but the Owls got threes from sophomore Connor Cooley and Glassmaker and a post-up in the lane by Valencia to head into halftime with a six-point lead.
"Our goal was to be aggressive, go right at them," Varner explained. "We wanted to give everything we had on defense, space out on offense and move the ball as quick as we could."
Marshall maintained a lead throughout the third quarter, but the crisp passing that marked the first half -- when all 10 of its field goals were assisted -- was missing, with only one assist on five buckets. Still, the Owls took a five-point lead into the final frame.
"We stopped looking for our shot, stopped attacking," Varner said. "For some reason we went on cruise control instead of attack mode."
Marshall got sloppy with the ball, turning it over on four of its first five possessions of the fourth quarter, and senior Tyson Grgurich took over for the Tigers.
Grgurich found senior Kevin Hennke for an open three, slashed twice to the hole and fed an open Motley inside. Senior Chris Tenpenny's baseline jumper capped Kirksville's 13-point streak for a 46-40 lead with 3:15 left.
"We can't have turnovers," Varner admitted. "That hurt us, hurt us bad."
The Owls went over six minutes without scoring before senior Zach Bishop sank a free throw, but that was offset by a technical foul on him which sent Grgurich to the stripe to make a pair. Marshall did not hit a shot from the field during the fourth quarter, which Grgurich closed with a lay-up and two charity shots for a game-high 20 points.
The Tigers (12-12) will take on the No. 1 seed, fifth-ranked Mexico, in the semifinal round today.
Bishop had 13 points and Glassmaker provided 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Owls (12-13). With four underclassmen in their eight-man rotation, there are blocks upon which to build.
"We'll be back next year," Varner promised. "We're going to work hard this summer and make some noise next year."