Aug 23, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It was a six-day journey of about 1,225 miles, but Marshall Men’s Basketball Coach Tom Herrion figures his team traveled quite a few more miles on its recent five-game exhibition trip to Canada.
The Thundering Herd rode a bus from Huntington to Cincinnati to Detroit, crossed the border to Windsor, Ontario, played in the province through London and Hamilton, returned to the U.S. via the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y., and headed home.
Marshall went 5-0 – five games in as many nights – and four played averaged double-figure scoring and seven made three starts. However, in a nation that adores and worships its hockey, the Herd – appropriately – played shorthanded.
“As far as an August trip, this time of year, I was pleased,” Herrion said in his Henderson Center office on Thursday. “Clearly we recognize there are specific areas, offensively and defensively, where we aren’t real good right now, but I was more concerned with – and now pleased with – two things that jumped out at me.
“No. 1, how hard we played every night, five straight nights, regardless of score, opponent, I thought we played with incredible effort. No. 2, all five games, we played very unselfish. Those things made me most pleased thinking back on heels of the trip.”
Marshall adapted to international (FIBA) rules, outscored its foes by an average of 20 points per game and shot 51 percent from the field.
Herrion wasn’t much into numbers, however, as he points toward his fourth MU season.
“Schematically, tactically, we have a long way to go,” he said, “but I do think now – because of this trip and the 10 practices we had preceding it – we have a great foundation leading into the fall.
“That’s what I really wanted to accomplish, because we have a lot of newness, not only in our personnel, but our style of play is going to be different, and I felt we at least were able to introduce some of the base of that, pressuring teams offensively and defensively.”
The Herd played without three players who will be on the 2013-14 roster – big man Cheikh Sane and shooting guards Justin Edmonds and Chris Thomas – and 7-foot-2 Yous Mbao was limited to 10 minutes over two games as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.
That left Herrion with basically nine players available, including walk-on guard Austin Loop.
“Yes, we did have pieces missing,” Herrion said. “That was good, in a way, because it gave our other guys great opportunity. We did exactly what we set out to do in terms of balancing minutes, rotating lineups. I scripted the starting lineup (for each game) before we went up there, and it stayed true to course.”
Marshall was led by redshirt freshman point guard Kareem Canty (18.8 ppg, 5.3 apg) and senior forward Elijah Pittman (16.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg). Transfer (Ohio) forward TyQuane Goard was a significant contributor (10.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Redshirt freshman Ryan Taylor – who sat out last season to retain eligibility because of academics – averaged a 20-10 double-double the first two games of the trip, then rolled an ankle early in Game 3 and was limited to 41 minutes over the final three games. The 6-foot-6 Taylor still had 12 points and 10 boards in only 17 minutes in a Game 4 win over McMaster University in Hamilton, however.
Yet, it wasn’t those statistics or the fact that eight players averaged between 18-and-26 minutes per game that Herrion saw as perhaps most significant on the tour.
“I think being away under these circumstances also was really beneficial because we were really limited in our communication back home, so I think our kids really bonded more,” Herrion said. “Because we -- in a societal problem -- are guilty of always getting back on our phones and texting and tweeting and emailing and Facebooking and all those sort of things that have become a cruel habit in our society overall. And we aren’t exempt from it as players and coaches.
“Not just the players … We found, as coaches, how limited our communication was with our recruits, with our immediate families. And so I think that helped us, because we truly were able to spend more time with one another, on the bus, in the hotels, more time interacting, talking, in a foreign land.
“Don’t minimize that. It’s Canada and it’s right there, but it’s still a different country, and we were out of our element, except JP (Kambola, a Toronto native).”
Asked about players whose performances jumped out at him, Herrion started with 6-4 redshirt sophomore swingman DeVince Boykins, who averaged 6.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 22.8 minutes per game.
“DeVince had a tremendously steady and productive trip, but I think that’s also attributable to the fact he’s finally healthy,” Herrion said of the North Carolinian who had major knee surgery. “It’s been a long time, long process for him. I don’t think he’s been fully healthy since midway through his first year, redshirted freshman year (2011-12).
“It’s nice to see that from DeVince, and exciting to us. The three guys who sat out (in 2012-13) … with Goard (maybe it’s) rust; he just hasn’t played. He didn’t play a lot at Ohio (as a freshman), for whatever the reasons and then he sat out here after transferring last year.
“Kareem and Ryan, academic guys from last year, played well. But really, every guy had positive moments during the trip, and I think that’s what excites us all.
“We came back in good shape. Ryan rolled that ankle, third game, but he’ll be fine. In totality, each guy was beat up pretty good because I would admit -- in hindsight -- I bit off more than we could chew because playing five straight nights is a challenge, the last two in a sweltering arena, with only nine guys, really eight some nights.
“We’re worn out.”
Marshall starts fall semester classes Monday, and Herrion’s team will return to small-group workouts, no more than four players at a time – before expanding to an unlimited number of players, but only two hours per player per week.
The NCAA’s new Division I men’s official practice calendar then allows 30 team workouts in 42 days before the season opener, which for the Herd is Nov. 8 against South Carolina State at the Henderson Center.
MU will open practice Sept. 27.
“I’ve been working on it; it’s different,” said Herrion, who in 2011-12 guided Marshall to its first NIT bid in a quarter-century. “You have to take almost two days off per week now. It’s different, but I think it’s good, think it will be healthy for us, but it’s not as simple as it used to be.
“As a coach, you have to manage the practice schedule much more with this new rule.”
Herrion said the Herd hoops trip was a big gain for a program that has only one player – Pittman – who played extensive minutes last season.
“When you encompass 10 days of practice, five games, the bonding, I think we maximized the opportunity and I give credit to my staff,” Herrion said. “They did a great job. They made a sacrifice, too.
“This is usually a period where we have the opportunity to have some ‘down time,’ so to speak, but because of the trip we all had to sacrifice some time with our families to first, practice, and then go on the trip.
“It was worth it.”