Feb. 19, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It has taken a while, but Cheikh Sane has found his niche for Marshall basketball.
“I don’t worry about scoring; we have other players to do that,” Sane said before the Thundering Herd’s practice Tuesday. “Every time, I try to get the rebound, play defense, don’t foul, block shots.
“The big thing is play hard. And I am able to do that now.”
That’s good news for the Herd (9-17, 3-8), which is coming off a much-needed win at Charlotte last Saturday, and has UAB (15-10, 4-7) and Conference USA tri-leader Middle Tennessee (19-7, 9-2) visiting the Henderson Center on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
Sane, a product of the SEEDS preparatory and educational program that has sent more than a few developing players from Senegal to major college basketball, has become more productive for the Herd in recent games.
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound junior post man said there’s good reason that. He’s healthier than he’s been since mid-December, when he suffered a right foot sprain in Marshall’s Capital Classic loss to West Virginia.
Sane (his name is pronounced Shek SAW-nay) is averaging 3.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game. But in the last three games – since he’s returning to a starting lineup much in need of his size – he’s averages are 6.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and four blocks.
Most importantly, he’s averaging 29 minutes over those three games.
“Cheikh’s confidence is up and he’s healthy again,” Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said. “I think everyone forgets how well he was starting to play when he got hurt. That foot injury slowed him down quite a bit.
“He’s healthier, so his confidence is at a higher level and he’s been very productive – not necessarily blowing up stat sheets in terms of numbers, but for us, just more of a presence.
“Physically, we need him … guys bounce off Cheikh and Yous (Mbao, 7-2) a little bit more. Cheikh has good instincts for the ball; he knows how to go to the glass.”
Sane, who came to Marshall from Snow (Junior) College in Utah, said his ability to run and jump were hindered with the foot injury, which lingered longer than the Herd figured.
“I’m feeling good now,” said Sane, whose 18 blocked shots lead the Herd. “The ankle, foot, I was doing rehab and playing with it but it wasn’t the same. Since I feel much better, I’m on the floor more and trying to let the game come to me.
“I was out two weeks, but the team needed me to play with it if I could. I’m still getting treatment, and it’s not 100 percent, but it is feeling better. And right now I need to be out there. We can’t (afford to) have anybody out at this point.”
After the injury against WVU, sane missed games against Alice Lloyd and Arkansas State, and then the Herd had another eight days off over the Christmas holidays before Sane returned for a loss at South Carolina. He numbers fell off, but he’s rebounded in more ways than one.
Sane’s 33 minutes in the win at Charlotte was his season high. With UAB coming to “The Cam” ranked second nationally in rebounding and sixth in rebound margin (plus-8.9 per game), the Senegalese center’s presence against the Blazers could be a big factor for the Herd in what has become a very fluid C-USA race – only four losses separating fifth and last (16th) place in a 16-team league.
Sane said he’s trying to curb an early season penchant that had him taking the ball to the ground for what Herrion called “an automatic dribble” after he’d corral a rebound – often turning a second-chance opportunity into a turnover.
The Herd junior, his smile widening at the thought, said assistant coach Mark Cline – who coaches Herd post men – harps on that regularly. It’s part of what Sane calls “learning more of the game every day.”
Herrion said Sane’s toughness in playing through his foot ailment has been overlooked, too.
“We’ve worked on him not bringing (the ball) down, especially on the offensive end of the floor,” the Herd coach said. “Cheikh’s very unselfish, even to a fault, and when he rebounds offensively, he’s looking first to pass.
“When he’s around the bucket, we want him to go up with it. He needs to score in that situation. But he’s doing a good job, what we expected. That foot really set him back, but he played through it to his credit. And we feel he can be more productive and get better as the rest of the season unfolds.”
Conference USA teams have five regular-season dates left – the Herd is home for four of those, with a pair of two-game homestands sandwiching a trip to Old Dominion – and then the league tournament in El Paso, Texas. If Marshall is to climb in the standings or make waves in the league bracket, it needs what Sane has provided in recent games.
“Points, if they come, they come,” he said. “I just try to learn every day, get better every day. You don’t want to do the same every day, because then you aren’t improving.
“That win at Charlotte was a big game, a big win for us. It would have been big wherever it was, but on the road was even more important. Charlotte’s been a good team, and we had to play well to get the win.
“The biggest thing is that we play hard. If we play like we have been in the last games, we can have some success.”