BOGACZYK: Edmonds, Herd Shoot Down Losing Skid
The Word on the Herd-Jan. 25, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Most of those who follow Marshall basketball know Austin Loop wears jersey No. 35.
Lately, however, the sophomore shooter also has been wearing No. 44 of UTSA and No. 20 of UTEP, among others.
So, with Loop playing the part of museum windows – heavily draped, that is – it’s up to others among the Herd to get some shots and make some shots … and that’s where Justin Edmonds comes in.
When Edmonds hit 4-of-6 three-point baskets in the first half Saturday afternoon against UTEP at the Henderson Center, it changed the tenor of not only a game, but the mindset of Coach Dan D’Antoni’s struggling team.
The 6-foot-4 junior spoke his own reference point following a loss less than 48 hours earlier.
“I feel like we come out sluggish at the first start of the game,” Edmonds said after a Thursday game in which UTSA built a 13-point halftime lead and then held off the Herd. “Toward the middle, we pick it up and play to our ability.
“We have to learn that ourselves and take care of that ourselves, where we come out sluggish. It is something that we don't want to do time after time. It gets a little frustrating, but at the end of the day, we have to take care of it.”
Against the Miners – a program that has owned the Herd since both joined Conference USA in 2005-06 – the shooting guard and his teammates took care of a lot.
With a 78-71 victory, Marshall (5-15, 1-6) impressively stopped its nine-game losing streak and 15-game skid against Division I teams with a resilient effort against a quality team. UTEP (12-7, 4-3) had won nine of the 10 C-USA meetings between the teams.
Edmonds scored a game-high and career-best 20 points, and while big man JP Kambola, forward Ryan Taylor and point guard Aleksa Nikolic (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) contributed significantly, it was Edmonds’ first-half play that sent the Herd a message.
“We took the first punch this time (down 4-0 and with three turnovers in the first four possessions), but after we took the first punch, we didn’t fall back after it,” said Edmonds, who was 4-of-6 from behind the arc in the first half. “We looked at one another and said, ‘We’re OK,’ and we responded.
“We’re in this together. Knowing that you have teammates in there helping you, it’s important.”
The Herd took 21 threes in the first half – a season-high for the first 20 minutes of a game. Marshall made eight of those – also a season-best number. Edmonds said it’s not about how many, but when and where.
“It’s kind of a good thing,” he said. “When you’re making threes, you want to shoot more. Sometimes when you’re making them, you catch it and you think, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot,’ where you end up taking bad shots and you can take your teammates out of it.
“I know I took a couple of bad shots but for the most part, I played off my teammates, and that’s what we need to do in our offense. With threes, as long as they’re going in, everybody can shoot ‘em. But I think we have a pretty balanced offense where we take a lot of threes because Coach wants us to be aggressive with our shots. So, if we swing it and somebody’s open, we’re not going to turn down the shot.”
In the second half, the Herd collapsed more of its defense into the paint to slow UTEP’s pitch-and-catch to its big men. And at the other end of the floor, the 6-foot-9 Kambola was finishing a 13-point, 9-rebound game only two games after totaling only seven minutes and three DNPs in the first six conference games.
“Somebody asked me if JP was in the doghouse and I said ‘I’m a coach; I don’t build doghouses,’” D’Antoni said. “If he wants to show me that he wants to play, he has to come out and practice every day and do what it takes. Before practice before the UTSA game I told JP there are no doghouses. I said all you need to do is come out and play well and show me you want to be on the floor.
“He is a great young man, who’s run up against the wall as a senior and he’s had all of those previous experiences and (his college career) started to dwindle down. A lot of guys with a lot less character would have quit, but you know that he’s come back and picks all of it up shows who he is.
“He’s our most talented big guy and I’ve told him since the season started that we need him. I’m happy for him and I hope he’ll continue.”
After the Miners had rallied from an 11-point deficit, the Herd faced the kind of gut-check time that has troubled D’Antoni’s club. UTEP took one-point leads twice with under six minutes remaining, but Taylor scored 10 of the Herd’s final 11 points to finish with his seventh double-double of the season (17 points, 10 rebounds) and 14th of his two Herd seasons.
It’s the kind of stepping-up D’Antoni has been seeking from his 6-6 sophomore, who is only four points shy of 700 in his MU career.
“Coach just told me to be a leader on the court even though I’m a sophomore,” Taylor said. “My teammates were getting me the ball and setting good pick and rolls.”
One week earlier, Marshall couldn’t finish games at FIU and Florida Atlantic after leading for 35 or more minutes in each. Besides an enthused Henderson Center crowd of 5,302 this time, what was the difference?
“Nobody’s emotions got the best of them,” Edmonds said. “I felt like when we’re a team and things didn’t go our way, our emotions have been getting the best of us. We played within ourselves in this game, and capitalized on every situation we could. It’s all about growing in our program.”
Loop managed only three first-half shots under the Miners’ shadow, and his 2-of-7 from behind the arc for the game did include a four-point play – a three-and-one – that gave Marshall its biggest lead, 57-46, with 15:12 left. His presence was felt, however, in that UTEP couldn’t pay enough attention to Edmonds, who was called “absolutely outstanding” by veteran Miners Coach Tim Floyd after the game.
“We executed better,” D’Antoni said. “I thought our kids got into things. I have adjusted a bit for the way they guard Loop and the way they’re guarding him helps other guys find some shots. The biggest thing is, it just felt like we made shots we hadn’t made before. We made crucial shots, like Ryan’s big one (for a 71-68 lead with 2:29 left) and his (four) free throws at the end.
“With the way we play, you have to be able to shoot and have multiple shooters. You can’t just have one. Justin Edmonds stepped up. Alex (Nikolic) stepped up and made a couple of threes. Loop is always capable, so he forces the defense to play a certain way. It opens up our pick and roll and allows JP to get down and make some plays.”
So, as the Herd heads to Southern Miss (6-12, 1-6) for a Thursday night meeting to escape last place in C-USA, and then on to Louisiana Tech (15-5, 6-1) on Saturday, Edmonds and his teammates understand what’s necessary when foes are going loopy about Loop.
“Loop and me, when we’re out there together, we talk all of the time, just communicating,” Edmonds said. “He’ll say, ‘I need help,’ because of how they’re playing him, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to try to get you the ball, but if I can’t get it to you, I’m going to try to score.’
“Give him credit: he’s a lights-out shooter, he’s worked hard for it and that’s a big part of our offense. But when it’s not there, we’ve got to do something to make up for it.”