Nov. 20, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – With plenty of Ellis Johnson Arena press row time to ponder who was who on Sunday while viewing Marshall’s foul-dominated overtime basketball loss at Morehead State, I locked in on a Thundering Herd player who reminded me very much of another one.
It was a cross-sport comparison that struck me.
As a big lead and other things began to unravel for Coach Tom Herrion’s team, one player stepped up and seized more than an opportunity. For so long in the second half, this guy wasn’t going to let his team lose.
It was point guard Kareem Canty. He was playing like Herd football quarterback Rakeem Cato – like there was no tomorrow, in control of the game when it mattered, grabbing his team by the scruff of the neck and trying to pull it to victory.
“I do see myself as a quarterback,” Canty said Tuesday before practice, “and this year I’ve started watching more football than I’ve ever watched in my life. I wanted to see how quarterbacks keep their composure.
“No matter whether they make a big play, a key pass, or throw an interception, the team rallies behind him, takes on their attitude. You can tell. If he loses his head, then the team loses its head.
“I’ve watched Cato do that this year and I see how much he’s battled for his troops and that’s how I want to approach things.”
Yes, it eventually unraveled for Canty and the Herd, mostly because he had to wearily play all 25 second-half minutes for a foul-plagued club, and he turned the ball over four times in the final 2:45 of regulation as things slipped away.
“I was in complete control of the game,” the 6-foot-1 Canty said. “That’s why I take full responsibility for that loss. I shouldn’t have let that team come back and win that game. A good point guard in college basketball wouldn’t let that happen, but I let it happen.”
Herrion said Canty’s weariness was a factor. The point agreed, but …
“Yeah, but I still shouldn’t have let that happen…but that comes with the game,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working, be in better shape, make smarter decisions, don’t make bonehead plays like I did. It was a learning experience, but I should have been able to get through that already.”
However, as Marshall (2-1) opens its four-game Roundball Showcase appearance Thursday night at the Henderson Center against Stephen F. Austin (2-1), one of the best deals for the Herd is that its point guard is only a redshirt freshman.
Let’s back up. At halftime, the Herd still had a 15-point lead (it was previously 21), and while Canty had seven assists and three turnovers in those first 20 minutes, he was 1-of-5 with three points.
As the second half unfolded, Herd scoring leader Elijah Pittman was struggling with his shot, and Marshall’s No. 2 scoring option, freshman Ryan Taylor, went to the bench with his fourth personal with 14:50 on the clock.
It was Canty time, and he knew it … and he did something about it.
The Herd lead was down to 59-55 with 12:41 left when Canty – wearing No. 1 – became the Herd’s primary offensive option. He hit a 3-pointer, and then in the next 10 minutes, he scored 16 of Marshall’s 23 points.
With 2:58 to go, the Harlem, N.Y., native nicknamed “NuNu” hit a deep, step-back 3 for an 82-74 Marshall lead. Herrion called timeout.
No one knew it quite then, but Canty was done, and the Herd sank with him. He had hit the wall, and finished with 9s in the turnover and assist columns to go with 19 points.
But in those 10 minutes, he showed how this Herd team will be different than last year’s 13-19 club. He can be a distributor or a scorer, but not a dominator within the offense unless other options are fizzling.
What he intends most to be is a leader – like Cato – statistics be damned.
“He’s got that delicate balance in the ability to score and make plays, both with his offensive game and his playmaking ability,” Herrion said. “It’s a delicate balance for a point guard, and not a lot of guys have that balance where they can go get a basket or facilitate for somebody else, set up somebody else.
“He’s got that balance. That long stretch, when we got (the lead) up to eight, he made a couple of really big baskets in that stretch. I thought he was really good for a long time, for his first road game, atmosphere, rivalry situation. He didn’t play like a freshman.”
Asked if he thought Canty – he sat out last season on an NCAA eligibility ruling – could be this good and display a versatility as a leader in different ways, Herrion said, “Yeah … but he’s still got to get a lot better.”
Canty isn’t going to stand and dribble the ball out front, looking for an avenue to hoist it or attack. He said there’s a method to his style of play.
“Elijah is clearly our best player, then Ryan, and when they’re not scoring, and it’s not going well, then I feel like it’s my time when I have to look at myself as a scorer,” said Canty, whose 8.3 assist average ranks second in Division I. “I can score at ease at any time, but I’d rather pass the ball.
“One thing that’s part of my theory is nobody’s complaining. I’m not complaining. I’m always telling (Pittman, who is averaging 30.3 ppg early), shoot the ball, shoot the first shot. Don’t hesitate.
“I tell him every time coming out that I’m going to be looking for you, because I need you to score. We need you to score. I want to get my assists up, I want you to get your points up, because that helps us win.”
Canty, himself, is averaging 17.3 points per game. His game is scoring if it needs to be.
“I just take it how the game comes,” he said, when asked about the step-back 3. “If the defense is giving me the shot … some teams, they think, ‘He’s a freshman. He can’t shoot’. I don’t settle, but if it’s there, I can knock it down and I will. Other than that, I want to get into the lane and kick, or finish.”
Herrion appreciates how Canty and his other primary ball-handling guard, Tamron Manning, recognize situations and personnel. It’s not about finding the open man. It’s about locating the right option … sort of like Cato does when he checks off in the run-pass option.
“Kareem is able to get the ball to the right guys, in the right spots at the right time,” Herrion said. “There’s a big difference when it comes to that … Kareem has that ability. That’s what a lead guard, a point guard does, finds guys at the right time. He’s an example of that.”
Sometimes, as it was at Morehead State, that right guy at the right time is Canty. And he and the Herd are more than OK when that happens.
# # #
After further review, the Herd’s 44 personal fouls in the loss at Morehead State were a Division I high in this season of tighter officiating, as were the Eagles’ 65 free throw attempts (by a whopping nine). The 44 is a Marshall record, too, topping 41 fouls against Ohio in a December 1991 Herd loss at the Bobcats’ Convocation Center.
Also, since 1997-98, the 44 fouls in a single game by one team trail only the 45 committed by Seattle in a 123-76 loss to Washington on Jan. 26, 2010.
If you’re wondering about the Division I record for fouls in a game, it is an old mark – 50 by Arizona against Northern Arizona, on Jan. 26, 1953. Northern had 34 in that game, and the total of 84 is the combined NCAA mark – eight more than in Sunday’s OT game at Morehead State.