Nov. 8, 2013
Final Stats | Quotes | Tom Herrion Postgame Video | Photo Gallery
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – On the list of schools with the most 1,000-point scorers in NCAA men’s basketball history, Marshall resides in a neighborhood with some big-time bluebloods … North Carolina, Louisville, Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas, UCLA, etc.
The Thundering Herd has had 49 players score 1,000 or more points in green and white. Elijah Pittman played the 2013-14 opener like he’s intent on being No. 50.
Pittman scored 31 points Friday night at the Henderson Center as Marshall rolled to an 85-69 victory over South Carolina State to start the Herd’s 102nd season. He was far from alone in establishing a new vibrancy in the Herd’s style of play in coach Tom Herrion’s fourth season.
It was the collegiate scoring high for the 6-foot-9 senior from Covington, Ky., and that includes his two seasons in junior college ball in Florida and Texas. It also was the most points for a Marshall player in a season opener since guard Ronald Blackshear hit 32 in a 92-90 victory at Niagara on Nov. 22, 2002.
Marshall shared the ball as it hasn’t in recent seasons, and cut off passing lanes with aggressiveness. The Herd didn’t allow the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-11 All-MEAC post man, Matthew Hezekiah, to become a factor until it was too late. Eleven of his 19 points came in the final 11 minutes, after MU had built a 30-point cushion that eroded.
Pittman, who scored 516 points in his Herd debut last season and is the leading returning scorer (16.1 ppg) in Conference USA, missed two of his first three shots, but by the finish he was 9-of-17, including 5-of-11 behind the arc.
“Today, I didn’t let missing early get to me,” Pittman said. “I never let it bother me. Last year, I’d put my head down, pout, but today when I missed my first fadeaway jumper, my next jumper, I told myself, ‘It’s only two shots.’ This is a 40-minute game.”
Pittman did his offensive damage in only 29 minutes, and he added four of the Herd’s 12 steals. Marshall reached a dozen steals only once in last season’s 13-19 finish, in the opener with the same number against Longwood.
“The defense and sharing the ball are much better this season, and we have more people who can do something with the ball, actually,” Pittman said. “That’s what we need. With the teams we’ll be playing, you can’t win with one person, but when you’ve got three or four people contributing, you’re most likely the team that wins.
“Our defense impressed me the most of what we did tonight. It was shaky at first, and then Coach got on us and we picked it and picked it up, and it got a lot better … We were in passing lanes more instead of just sagging off like last year, just containing a man. We’re more aggressive now, trapping, picking up above halfcourt sometimes.
“Their big guy (Hezekiah), we just contained him. Coach told us to front him and play him physical and he loves the jump hook to the left off the backboard. We just listened to what Coach says. This team listens a lot now.”
In their first collegiate games as redshirt freshmen after sitting out last season to meet NCAA eligibility requirements, forward Ryan Taylor and point guard Kareem Canty gave Pittman plenty of help.
The 6-6 Taylor battled long and hard inside (mostly) for a double-double of 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Canty scored 15 points and had five assists, and cut down his turnovers to three after having eight in the Herd’s Oct. 28 exhibition win over Concord.
“I made simple plays instead of always making the highlight plays,” Canty explained. “It’s something I’ve been working on at practice. I just keep that in the back of my mind … ‘Stop turning the ball over so much,’ because good point guards don’t do that.”
Marshall also had only five of its 13 turnovers in the second half.
“(Canty) played great for us tonight, and did a much better job taking care of the ball,” Herrion said. “I told him he needed to be better, and he was he didn’t always go for the home run play.
“As a team, we didn’t always try and make the flashy home run, but hit on a lot of singles, and doubles, which led to us playing with more flow, and rhythm.”
The Herd has nine newcomers – tying UTSA for the most in Conference USA in that department – and new faces in Herd uniforms played 118 of the 200 Marshall minutes.
“It was amazing,” Herrion said. “Every time I looked on the floor we had three, four new guys playing their first collegiate games. I always say you have to go through experiences to gain experience, and this was a great first step for us tonight.
“We are thrilled with the win, although we have a long way to go, and have a lot to work on -- which is great moving forward.”
The Herd still left a lot of points behind the arc (7-of-30) and at the free throw stripe (26-of-41) and was outrebounded 51-46, but as a feeling-out opener went, it was a feel-good night for a club on which Pittman got more than enough help.
“It was great getting started tonight,” Herrion said. “We had the good, bad, and ugly all in one tonight … (but) happy with the young group we have, they got their first experiences tonight.
“We did an excellent job stretching it to 32 at one point, although we did a poor job finishing. In the first half we struggled at playing too fast and taking to many early threes, shot on one touch too many times.
“The press, I felt, really wore them down in the second half which was great for us.
“I felt we really imposed our will tonight, which I was so pleased with.”
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HERD HOOPS: Marshall is 79-23 all-time in openers. The Herd hasn’t dropped an opener since its last away from the Henderson Center – in 2005-06, at Evansville, 91-81 … Rio Grande, coached by Huntington native and former area high school coach Ken French, opened its season at home Friday night against Miami (Ohio)-Hamilton in the nightcap of a tripleheader in the Saunders Insurance Tipoff Classic. The Red Storm meets Indiana-Kokomo on Saturday at 3 p.m. before coming to the Henderson Center on Tuesday night for a 7 p.m. tip. The Herd is 14-0 all-time against Rio in a series played home-and-home in a single season only once – 1920-21. The other 12 dates have been in Huntington … Herrion’s club goes to Morehead State on Nov. 17 for a 2 p.m. Sunday tipoff, then comes home for three straight games in the Roundball Showcase against Stephen F. Austin, UNC Wilmington and Western Kentucky (Nov. 21, 23, 26, respectively).