March 4, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – For the last game of the 2012-13 basketball season at the Cam Henderson Center, coach Tom Herrion’s Herd is looking to exact a measure of revenge when Southern Miss comes calling Tuesday night.
After Saturday’s 103-76 loss at Houston, the Thundering Herd entertains the Golden Eagles (22-7, 11-3), which handed MU a 102-46 Conference USA loss back on Jan. 23 at Reed Green Coliseum.
After both of those games, Herrion used the word “manhandled.”
Those are two of the three 100-point games the Herd (12-17, 5-9) has allowed, and they are indicative of how it’s gone for Marshall, which is like the poetic Longfellow little girl with the curl.
In the last meeting with the second-place Golden Eagles, the Herd led 3-0 than was outscored 47-4. It was 53-17 at halftime. Marshall shot a .333 percentage. Southern Miss hit .632 to win the most lopsided league game in C-USA history.
Marshall visits East Carolina (16-11, 7-7) on Saturday – and is on the outside looking in for one of the five first-round byes at next week’s C-USA Tournament at Tulsa’s BOK Center.
The Herd is tied for ninth place with Houston and would be the No. 9 seed in an 11-team bracket if the tournament started today. Marshall already has lost head-to-head tiebreakers with Houston, UAB and Tulane, three teams just ahead of MU.
But even though Massachusetts native Herrion is a Boston Red Sox fan, he does subscribe to a Yogism from New York Yankees lore:
It’s never over ‘til it’s over.
If his team buys that, the third-year Herd coach thinks they have a chance. He’s pushing all of the proverbial buttons, too.
“It’s not over, not at all,” Herrion said. “You tell them that. We’ve got two regular-season games this week before we go to the conference (tournament).
“When we play really well, we’re really good, but we don’t have a lot of middle ground. We’ve played poorly too often. We’ve had a lot of struggles at times.”
At Houston, the Herd had those struggles defensively. “We had no resistance, no fight,” Herrion said postgame. “They scored it at will. That disappoints me thoroughly, mightily and wholeheartedly.”
However, Marshall also shot a .364 percentage, on the heels of a .263 night in a 52-48 home loss to UAB. That was Marshall’s lowest shooting mark since a .236 percentage in a 61-36 loss at Tulane in February 2006 – the Herd’s first C-USA season.
The Herd has missed 42 field goal attempts in each of the last two games. That number astounded Herrion after it happened in the recent loss to the Blazers – and then it happened again.
“We’ve got to play better, period, got to play (defensively) like we did against UAB and Central Florida (an 82-70 road win on Feb. 20),” Herrion said. “We didn’t play well at Houston in lot of areas, they got a big lead. You’ve got to get up off the mat, dust yourself off … It’s an incredible challenge with Southern Miss coming in.”
The Herd coach said he was encouraged by Sunday’s practice back home in Gullickson Gym, 24 hours after the loss at Hofheinz Pavilion.
“They come in Sunday afternoon after a very disappointing game, a long trip back, travel troubles, it’s tough,” he said. “They come in with a really spirited effort, really good attitude. That’s what refreshes me, energizes me. It shows they understand that there are still great opportunities left.”
Last season, Marshall finished 9-7 in C-USA, tied for fifth with UAB in the standings, and landed the No. 6 seed for the conference tournament. The Herd won three straight to reach the title game before running out of gas against Memphis on the Tigers’ home floor.
There’s some C-USA history the Herd might do well to learn, too.
In 17 C-USA tournaments, teams without a first-round bye have reached the championship game eight times. Four of those eight have won titles and automatic NCAA Tournament berths.
Herrion said he hasn’t dwelled on the 2012 C-USA Tournament run just yet.
“We haven’t talked about it yet,” Herrion said. “It’s too early. We’ve still got to talk about playing better, playing consistent basketball, which I thought we were and obviously haven’t the last couple of games, especially offensively against UAB and defensively against Houston.”
Marshall has four players scoring with double-figure averages (Elijah Pittman, DeAndre Kane, D.D. Scarver, Dennis Tinnon), but rebounding – thought by Herrion and others to be a Herd hallmark this season – has been one of those come-and-go issues.
Marshall has been outrebounded 15 times in 29 games, and is 3-12 when it loses on the glass.
That is Herrion’s “poorly too often” reference point.
“It is frustrating,” the Herd coach said about the lack of consistency in a team that has baffled more than him on more than one occasion. “It just seems it’s game-to-game, whether it’s individually or collectively.
“It’s always something. We haven’t been able to reach what I’d call a consistent staple with this team, something to hang our hats on. And that’s my job, and obviously it’s been very frustrating. And it disappoints me.”
# # #
Tinnon and fellow big men Nigel Spikes and Robert Goff will be the Senior Night honorees before Tuesday’s 7 p.m. tipoff … Monday marked the 25th anniversary of Herd career scoring leader Skip Henderson’s 55-point Southern Conference Tournament single-game record, against The Citadel in the 1988 first round at the Asheville (N.C.) Civic Center. It’s also the Marshall single-game record and still the SC tourney mark … Kane needs four steals to go into an exclusive MU career club with Henderson – the only Herd players in the top 20 in scoring, top 10 in assists and top 10 in steals. Kane, with 1,445 points in three seasons, needs nine to move into the MU top 15. He needs one assist to tie A.W. Hamilton – a three-year starting point guard – for ninth place on the career list … Spikes’ 52 blocks are sixth in a Herd single season, and Tinnon’s 620 rebounds in a Herd uniform put him fourth among two-year rebounders in MU history, behind Charlie Slack, Bob Burgess and Randy Noll … Pittman, averaging a team-leading 15.9 points for the season, has averaged 19.0 points in the last nine games, all double-figure efforts.