MCGILL: Herd Hoops Suffers First Home Blemish in Loss to WKU
The Word on the Herd
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The 11-game win streak by the Marshall men’s basketball program, in the top 10 of lengthiest streaks in the history of the Cam Henderson Center, came to an end Saturday night.
The Thundering Herd, previously unbeaten in 10 games at home this season, had little go its way in a 112-87 loss to Conference USA rival Western Kentucky in front of 6,826 fans. Marshall missed its first eight shots from the field, lost the nation’s leading shot blocker, Ajdin Penava, to an injury in the opening minutes and trailed by as many as 36 points in the rare home letdown.
“They kicked our tails,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said afterward. “We’ve got to be better.”
D’Antoni lamented the loss of Penava, who entered Saturday’s game averaging 4.7 blocks per game, slightly better than Texas big man Mohamed Bamba’s 4.5 for the national lead. Penava landed awkwardly on his right leg and headed to the locker room. He did not return to the game, but made his way back to the bench in the second half.
“It hurts when you lose Penava,” D’Antoni said. “(WKU) got a lot of dunks toward the end, which wouldn’t happen.”
The Hilltoppers took advantage of Penava’s absence, finishing with a 53-26 advantage in rebounds, a 70-20 difference in points in the paint and a 20-2 advantage in second chance points.
“I’m sure losing their kid early in the game hurt their flow some,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said, “but I thought our kids were dialed in for 40 minutes about as well as you can dial them in for 40 minutes.”
The Hilltoppers received a game-high 33 points from Darius Thompson, who finished with a triple-double. The senior transfer from the University of Virginia added 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Senior forward Justin Johnson added 27 points and eight rebounds, and fellow big man Dwight Coleby collected a double-double (18 points, 14 rebounds).
While Marshall found its rhythm on the outside by hitting 18 of 37 (48.6 percent) from 3-point range, the Herd struggled inside the arc, where it made 10 shots on 33 attempts (30.3 percent).
“Losing Penava really hurts,” D’Antoni said. “We’re thin inside anyway, and it makes it tough for us. Especially against a team that has those two loads (Johnson and Coleby) inside.”
The game was tied at 0-0 for only 18 seconds before the Hilltoppers took the lead for the duration of the game. WKU jumped out to a 10-1 lead before Marshall made a field goal, a lob-and-dunk to freshman forward Jannson Williams. But the visitors’ lead swelled from there, reaching 13 points, 16-3, after a 3-pointer by Darius Thompson and three free throws. Two of the foul shots were awarded after a technical foul was called on D’Antoni.
By that point, Penava had exited with a right leg injury after scoring 1 point and blocking five shots in four minutes. He did not record a rebound and missed his three field goal attempts.
WKU used another first half run – this one featuring 15 unanswered points – to push a 22-11 lead to 36-11 with 8:23 left of the opening half. The only time the Herd trimmed the lead to fewer than 20 points came when junior guard Jon Elmore connected on a 3-pointer moments after freshman guard Jarrod West did the same. The six-point swing made it 48-29, Hilltoppers, with 3:23 left of the first half.
West hit another 3-pointer with 1:13 left, and then WKU scored 7 unanswered points to end the half. The Hilltoppers led 61-35, and the halftime statistics were staggering in favor of the visitors.
WKU made 24 of 41 shots from the field, 5 of 8 from beyond the arc and 8 of 11 free throws. The Hilltoppers held a 29-12 advantage on the boards and had 13 assists against five turnovers. Meanwhile, Marshall made only 10 of 31 shots, although it did rally from a slow start to make 8 of 15 on 3s.
In fact, after a pair of early lobs to Williams, all of the Herd’s offense came from 3-pointers and free throws. Williams was on the receiving end of two alley-oop dunks – the first with 15:54 left of the first half and the other 91 seconds later – and those were the only two 2-point field goals by Marshall in the first half.
Marshall had four players score in double figures: West had 20, followed by Burks (19), Elmore (18) and Williams (18). Williams grabbed a team-high six rebounds and Burks and Elmore each dished out eight assists.
While the Herd struggled allowing 112 points, the offense had bright spots. Marshall made at least 18 3-pointers for the sixth time in school history and fourth time under D’Antoni. West made a third of those, connecting on 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. The offense took care of the ball, too, finishing with 25 assists against seven turnovers.
A road trip looms next for Marshall, a two-game swing to Charlotte (Thursday) and Old Dominion (Saturday, Feb. 13).
NOTES: Marshall came within one 3-pointer of tying the school record of 19, which has been accomplished three times … The 37 attempts from 3-point range are tied for the eighth-most in school history … Williams set a career high for points; it was his second career game in double figures (previous best: 10 points) … Williams also had three 3s for the first time in a college game … West tied a career high for 3-pointers made in a game (William & Mary, Nov. 29) … Burks set a new career high for assists (seven vs. Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 22, 2017) … Although Penava was limited to four minutes, his five blocks moved him up the career list. Penava has 122 career blocked shots, tied with Ryan Taylor (2013-17) for No. 7 in Marshall history. Next on the list: Nigel Spikes, who blocked 123 shots from 2009-13.