BOGACZYK: D'Antoni's Debut About Defense, Open Shots
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 14, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It took Dan D'Antoni decades to get the coaching job he really wanted, but it only took his first Marshall basketball team one game to make the Thundering Herd Hall of Fame point guard smile.
Getting plenty of production from faces new or little-used as Division I players, D'Antoni's collegiate coaching debut was a solid 74-55 victory Friday night over Jacksonville State before a Henderson Center crowd of 5,463.
"It was a long time in waiting and I enjoyed every second of it," D'Antoni said after Marshall won its opener for a ninth straight season. "I thought our players played very hard, and defensively were very good."
D'Antoni made a point of remarking that a story published earlier in the week that said the coach didn't think rebounding was important was a misconception.
"Before you guys write about rebounding, I thought we did that pretty well," he said. "Offensively, I thought we were pretty good. I'm a great believer that you have to get a rebound to win."
The Herd got a career-high 16 points from center Cheikh Sane, matching sophomore teammate Ryan Taylor for the team high against the Ohio Valley Conference visitors. Walk-on sophomore Austin Loop got his first start - he played only 75 minutes in 13 games last season - and scored 14, hitting four 3-pointers.
If Sane keeps playing as he did, Herd fans might start calling him "Shaq" Sane.
"I really like the offense better than last year," Sane said. "Everybody is free to do whatever they want. I can just be me and play the game. Listen to Coach, get the concept, and play hard going to the basket."
And while Marshall shot 50 percent while playing the transition game D'Antoni wants, it was as much the Herd's halfcourt defense as anything that paved the way to victory.
"I thought they did a real nice job," D'Antoni said of his team's halfcourt defense. "We pushed down toward the baseline and did a pretty nice job with that and they did a great job, too, kind of got off their man and there was support there.
"And they did a great job of supporting one another when they needed to. I thought Cheikh was a bear inside but all of `em played well. I think we turned `em over 17 times. That wasn't bad ... I've always felt like it starts with the defensive end, which includes rebounding to get it out."
Sane was 7-for-7 from the floor with six rebounds, and Taylor was 7-of-10 with six boards and four assists. Eleven of the 12 Herd players scored, and 81 of the 200 minutes were played by Loop and six others who weren't in uniform for the Herd in 2013-14.
And while D'Antoni loves the free-flowing, open-post style of play, Loop's effectiveness with deep corner jumpers cleared the lane even more for Sane and Taylor to operate.
"Well, the way we play, there's nobody in the lane," the Herd coach said when asked about Sane and Loop. "I think there was an article that said I'd give up rebounding. That's why (Sane) was 7-for-7, because I removed the guy that just stays in there and battles for the rebound.
"It's not that I don't care about rebounds. I care about rebounds, but I don't want to give up that open area to the basket. Loop hit two 3s and they went to a `deny' in the corner and if you don't touch off that pick and roll, he's going to lay it up."
Loop played 28 minutes, 15 more than he saw in any game last season. He said the ability to stay on the floor helps his confidence.
"It helps a lot," the redshirt sophomore said. "Like I have said before, as a shooter, you can't ask for anything more than a coach, who if I catch it and I can see the rim, he wants me to shoot it. He told me a couple days ago that he would rather me go 0-for-10 before passing up an open shot ... Our offense, it relies on shooters shooting open shots.
"The first time I was in, the first like five minutes, I didn't get a shot. I couldn't get a shot. Then after (Sane) kept scoring and scoring, then my guy wants to help, and then they find me in the corner."
D'Antoni found little about which to quibble in his debut game, although he made one point he intends to stress to his team.
"I thought we got the lead up to 24, right in that area (66-42 with 5:54 left)," he said. "I thought we relaxed a little bit and you can't do that. The style of game we play, you'll find as the season goes around you can be up 24 and then down four in the next five minutes.
"So, we don't quit playing. We're going to keep playing wide-open basketball, and so we've got to make sure we maintain our intensity level at all times.
"Offensively, we were a little bit weak, but that's to be expected because there were a lot of guys out there playing for the first time and that showed a little bit. But I think they'll do better as the year goes through."
The Herd has one of those NCAA Tournament-like quick turnarounds, as Savannah State (0-1) visits the Henderson Center on Sunday for a 4 p.m. tip. The Tigers also opened Friday night, with a 76-53 loss at Eastern Kentucky. Savannah had 33 turnovers in the loss.
SEEN `N' HERD: Taylor's 3-pointer at 12:48 of the first half was the Herd's first hoop from behind the arc this season. It extended Marshall's consecutive-game string with a 3-point basket to 744. That's the 10th-longest current streak in Division I ... Since moving into the Henderson Center for the 1981-82 season, Marshall has lost only two home openers - to Troy in 2001-02 and to UNC Wilmington in 2003-04 ... D'Antoni's open post yielded plenty of room to score, and the Herd won the point-in-the-paint battle, 36-10 ... The Herd has seven of its first eight games at home, hitting the road only to play No. 8 Louisville next Friday night ... Loop's 14 points were a career-high against a major-college team. His career high of 17 came last season against NAIA member Alice Lloyd. His highest-scoring game against a Division I foe before the 2014-115 opener was three points, on four occasions last season.