Jan. 20, 2013
It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Needless to say, Marshall’s upcoming road trip in Conference USA men’s basketball won’t be anything like Jake and Elwood’s journey in the Blues Brothers.
It is a tall order, however … even for the tallest team in C-USA.
After blanketing and blasting East Carolina 77-56 on Saturday night at the Cam Henderson Center, the Thundering Herd heads into what arguably will be the toughest trip anyone will take in league play this season.
Coach Tom Herrion’s club (9-9, 2-1) goes to Southern Mississippi on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. (EST) tipoff (CSS telecast), then buses to Memphis for a 2 p.m. game (FSN telecast) on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles (15-4, 4-0) and Tigers (14-3, 3-0 and hosting Tulane on Tuesday night) are the only two unbeaten teams in C-USA play, with the conference season only about 20 percent played.
Southern Miss has won seven in a row, Memphis eight straight. At home, you ask?
The Golden Eagles’ 22-game streak at Reed Green Coliseum is the fifth-longest active home-floor run (behind Syracuse 34, Kansas 32, South Dakota State 25, Colorado State 24).
As for Memphis, since 2005-06 when C-USA reorganized following the first Big East exodus (Louisville, Cincinnati, etc.), the Tigers are 68-3 in league play at home, with no losses to fellow Eastern Division teams (UTEP twice and Tulsa).
There’s also this – no C-USA team besides Marshall plays the league’s top two clubs to date (and C-USA’s entrants in the NCAA Tournament last March) back-to-back on the road.
Tulsa gets USM and Memphis in consecutive games (Jan. 26, Feb. 2), but Coach Danny Manning’s team has a week between the games and the Golden Eagles visit the Golden Hurricane.
UAB (8-10, 0-3) lost to both current C-USA unbeatens back-to-back, in Birmingham to Memphis and at Southern Miss – but also had a week between the games (Jan. 12 and Saturday night).
“It’s tough winning away from home, no matter who you’re playing,” Herd senior forward Dennis Tinnon said after Saturday’s triumph to take Marshall to 8-1 at the Henderson Center this season. “It’s just a different environment.
“We’ve just got to go down there fully prepared. We’ve got to take these next two days and grind and grind and make sure we have 100 percent focus so when we’re there, we can play the game the right way.”
Herrion’s third Herd team is seeking a signature victory, and winning one or both of the next two would be just that.
Marshall never has won at Memphis and is 0-5 there since joining C-USA. The Herd is 0-4 in league play at Hattiesburg, last winning there early in 1988-89, Coach Rick Huckabay’s last MU season.
C-USA home teams are 15-7 in league play (.682), not quite the .836 (97-19) the conference has stacked up.
Against the Pirates (11-6, 2-2) on Saturday night, Tinnon posted his 17th career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. He played in losses at USM and Memphis last season.
“The crowd just gives the home team an advantage, like we have here,” he said. “They get involved and it gets us going. But it’s more about the basketball. You’ve got to have tunnel vision about what’s happening on the court. It’s us five, their five and the coaches on the court.
“You’ve got to make it a game, not an environment.”
ECU learned that Saturday, although the Pirates – they made a 17-point comeback at home to beat UCF a week earlier – kept pressing and gamely tried to stay in it. Two years ago, ECU came from 15 down to win on the Herd’s floor.
“A team like that is never out of the game,” Herrion said. “I’ve watched enough tape. They play from behind as well as any team in America. They are an amazing comeback team. We got off to a pretty good start at UTEP the other day, too (a 74-63 loss). Our crowd energizes us.
“Like any team that plays in its building, we have a security blanket. Clearly we fed off it and our fans fed off our play. It’s a lot easier to play from ahead when the ball goes in the basket. It energizes your defense.”
Marshall’s defense disrupted ECU throughout the game, and a season-largest crowd of 6,056 at “The Cam” got into the game early, too.
Coach Jeff Lebo’s club scored on only two of its first 19 possessions, and the Herd built a commanding 27-4 lead. MU had plenty of contributors, but Elijah Pittman’s defense on Pirate scoring leader Maurice Kemp was crucial.
Pittman, who scored 19 points, made life miserable for Kemp – the league’s top scorer at 18.3 points entering the game – in a 2-of-6 first half with no rebounds and three turnovers.
DeAndre Kane, playing mostly at point guard, scored 22 points to go with eight assists for the Herd, which overcame its worst free throw shooting of the season (10-of-23) and being outrebounded (minus-5) by holding the visitors to 33-percent shooting.
Tinnon and Co. know the numbers. While the Herd is 8-1 at the Henderson Center, it is 1-8 away from home, the lone victory a neutral-site decision back on Nov. 16 against Division II District of Columbia at Hofstra.
“We’re going down there to do our best,” Tinnon said of the upcoming trip. “I think everybody has it in their heads that we’re playing better now, and we need to win.
“We had a bunch of early losses, and we’ve had one slip up since at UTEP, but we’re looking to move forward from here. A game like (against ECU) shows what we can do when we focus.”