Nov. 16, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Marshall men’s basketball doesn’t have a Lewis or Clark on the roster, but it is starting the 2012-13 on an expedition.
The Thundering Herd is in Hempstead, N.Y., today to open a three-day, three-game stint in the 2K Sports Classic for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Coach Tom Herrion’s team (1-1) will play those three over about 49 hours at Hofstra’s 5,023-seat Mack Sports Complex, following an 80-68 loss Sunday at Villanova in the Herd’s opener in the NCAA exempt event.
The Herd opens today at 4:30 p.m. against the University of the District of Columbia (1-1), then faces 2012 NCAA Tournament entrant South Dakota State (0-1) on Saturday at 2:30. Herrion’s team closes the event Sunday at 3 p.m. against Hofstra (0-2).
It’s the kind of road less traveled by the Herd.
No Marshall team has played four of its first five games away from the Henderson Center since the first five games with Coach Billy Donovan on the MU sideline, in 1994-95.
The Herd did more than OK then, winning all five with a home triumph over Bluefield State before winning at Central Michigan and Eastern Kentucky, then taking the Bearcat Classic title at Cincinnati with wins over Tennessee-Martin and John Beilein-coached Canisius (which had upset the Bob Huggins-guided and host Bearcats in a semifinal).
Marshall hasn’t played four in a row away from home in regular-season play since 2006-07 (Coach Ron Jirsa’s last year here) with a six-game out-of-town run with three in the Great Alaska Shootout and three straight true road dates.
When the Herd was putting together the 2012-13 schedule, it first appeared Marshall would get four home dates in an exempt event, as an anchor team with New Mexico State (returning the game to Las Cruces next season). That fell apart, and the Herd was left to hit the road.
“Going on road to a Villanova, through most of summer, that wasn’t really part of equation and we thought we really had a chance to get four home games,” Herrion said. “This is a more challenging situation, all four (including Villanova) away from here, none at home; two are true road games, two neutral.”
UDC is very good on the (NCAA) Division II level, and an outstanding South Dakota State team, really, really good. Then Hofstra, on its floor. I do think, for different reasons, it’s made it more challenging.
“Is that better? We’ll see. We’ll be better because of it, because we’ll be playing high-caliber teams away from home. I don’t know the last time, with teams I’ve been part of, we’ve had this many away early in season. It has to help us in that regard. These are great opportunities for us.”
The last time Herrion was on the bench for four of the first five games away from home was for his first five as a head coach – at College of Charleston in 2002-03, but those four of five were all neutral-site dates, including three wins in Anchorage for a Great Alaska Shootout title.
His days as an assistant coach in power conferences, at Providence, Virginia and Pitt, never included such a Rand-McNally- or GPS-challenging start to the season, either.
Three games in three days is nothing new to him or some of his players, however. The Herd played four in four days last season in reaching the Conference USA title game, losing to host Memphis after wins over SMU, Tulsa (in three overtimes) and Southern Mississippi.
“We’ve got a great reference point there,” said Herrion, who celebrated his 45th birthday on Tuesday. “Those guys (Dennis Tinnon, DeAndre Kane, Nigel Spikes) are some of our leaders, so they hopefully talk to our newer and younger guys about how we do things … what we’ve got to do in terms of turning the page and getting yourself ready, get the physical recovery, the mental preparation.”
Asked if he might change his rotation to more evenly distribute minutes to save legs, Herrion smiled and said, “I’m not smart enough to do that.
“You’ve just got to play to win every night out and so we do that. You hopefully put yourself in situation where you can manage minutes, and if you can do that, so be it. But I’m not going into a game thinking that way, you’ve got to do what you do, stick to what you need to do to win a game, then do the same in Games 2 and 3.”
UDC, guided by former NBA big man and Iona Coach Jeff Ruland, opened with a 78-58 loss at Villanova a week ago before downing Division II University of Sciences, 76-63. South Dakota State lost its opener, 70-67, at Alabama on a Crimson Tide buzzer-beater. Hofstra has lost at Monmouth, 91-62, and at Purdue, 83-54.
Marshall has gotten 20 points per game from junior college two-guard D.D. Scarver in a home rout of Longwood and the loss at ‘Nova. “Obviously, once you get past Game 1 in this situation, there’s very little physical preparation time for Games 2 and 3,” Herrion said. “It’s a lot more mental. One thing a little bit better about this scenario is you know who you’re playing in Games 2 and 3, as opposed to a tournament, where winners play, usually.
“All of our advance stuff is done, for the two following games after UDC, so you put a high emphasis on physical recovery and mental preparation, walk-throughs, things like that mostly at out hotel, focus on scouting reports, stuff like that, getting our newer guys used to our routine.”
He said the Herd needs to rebound – figuratively and literally – from the loss at Villanova, where one of the nation’s tallest teams (his) was routed on the glass.
“Rebounding first and foremost, was the takeaway,” Herrion said. “It was so glaring, the lack of rebounding, both ends of the floor, especially at the offensive end (3 offensive caroms in 40 minutes). It’s something we teach.
“We also had too many turnovers that led to easy Villanova breakout points. You turn the ball over at the top (of the offense), you can’t get your defense set. Too many of those points, to a certain extent, are indefensible.
“And then there’s just competing. We’re down two, under four minutes left, on the road, in a Big East gym. You’ve got to dig in and find a way to get couple more stops, put yourself in position to win that game.
“There were a lot of great teaching points coming out of there, and like I’ve said all week, not one guy, and myself as the coach, played or coached very well, so we didn’t deserve to win. We obviously have to look in the mirror and adjust and correct and get better. Now, we’ve got a great opportunity.”
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With the Marshall football home finale at noon Saturday broadcast on the regular Thundering Herd/IMG Sports Network outlets, the men’s basketball game that afternoon (2:30 p.m.) will air only on Huntington’s WRVC (930 AM and Supertalk 94.1 FM).
The basketball pregame airtime is 2 p.m. Frank Giardina will call the three Herd hoops games at Hofstra, with “Voice of the Herd” Steve Cotton calling the Senior Day football game at Edwards Stadium.