Dec. 9, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Coppin State had “Fang” in its veteran coach. Tom Herrion is looking for multiple fangs in his team.
Marshall’s basketball roster doesn’t have a Houdini, but the Thundering Herd escaped at home again Saturday night, much as it did in recent three-point wins over Morehead State and UNC Wilmington.
This time, the Herd needed a big second half at both ends of the Henderson Center floor to outlast the Eagles, 69-63.
“We need to take every game seriously,” said Marshall senior forward Dennis Tinnon, whose double 15 (points and rebounds, and his 15th career double-double in 45 Herd games) was crucial for the Herd (6-4), which really needs to take the next one seriously – No. 11 Cincinnati (9-0) on Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Civic Center.
Coppin (1-8) hasn’t beaten a Division I team this season, and the Eagles were picked to finish 10th among 13 teams in the preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference poll. Yet, Coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell’s team, in its first of seven straight road games, held a 34-26 halftime lead.
Asked about the volume of Herrion’s halftime presentation in the locker room, Tinnon said the third-year Herd coach was loud “the whole time, from the time we went in until the time we went out.”
Well, someone must have been listening.
In the second half, the Herd turned up the heat with pressure and trapping and a 2-2-1 zone, led by aggressive off-the-bench performances by guard Tamron Manning and DeVince Boykins.
“Those guys came in and gave us a real spark,” said Herd center Nigel Spikes, who had 11 rebounds. “It really doesn’t show on the stat sheet. They played real well, and they deserve a lot of credit.”
After 32-percent marksmanship with nine turnovers in the first half and an 0-of-2 half at the free throw line, Marshall shot 58 percent in the second half, turned it over only four times and limited the Eagles to 41-percent shooting.
Still, the visitors wouldn’t go away, and with three minutes left, Coppin was within striking distance of picking up its second non-conference road win since November 1997, when the Eagles were coming off their greatest hoops moment – a 15-over-2 seed upset of sixth-ranked South Carolina in the 1997 NCAA Tournament first round, then just missing a Sweet Sixteen berth with an 82-81 loss to Texas.
That November 1997 win came at Missouri. The only other non-league Coppin road win since then was in November 2009, but that was at UMBC, just a short bus ride away in the Eagles’ hometown of Baltimore.
The Herd didn’t take the lead for good until Tinnon finished an “and-one” for a 58-57 edge with 2:45 left.
“I was really surprised how we played early in the game,” Herrion said, relating that the Herd had one of its best practices on Friday. “We came out skittish, and now we’re playing on our heels.”
He also called two timeouts in the game’s first 2:31, with his club down 6-0.
“I don’t think I’ve ever used two timeouts that quick,” he said.
After that, the Herd fell into a familiar recent pattern, missing plenty of point-blank shots. Herrion is befuddled at how the Herd has missed so many “paintball” shots and stickbacks, but what frustrates him even more is that when his players do miss, they don’t get to the foul line.
“I get really upset when I miss an easy putback,” Tinnon said. “When you miss that close to the rim, it’s really frustrating.”
After many of those misses, the Herd just didn’t get back on defense. That changed in the second half, and Marshall’s overall board dominance (47-29) and the defensive vise-turning proved the eventual differences.
“Games like this, we can’t have,” Spikes said.
Shooting guard D.D. Scarver led all scorers with 20 points and fellow junior college transfer Elijah Pittman had 14 for the Herd. Chris Martin got his first career start at point guard, and DeAndre Kane came off the bench (a coach’s decision on Kane’s non-start) for 11 assists in 37 minutes.
“We so far don’t want to make anything easy on ourselves,” said Herrion, who was pleased with his team’s shot selection and its 21 assists-on-26 baskets. “Another hard-fought win. Give Coppin credit … They got confidence early.
“I thought our second half was outstanding, both offensively and defensively. Our press helped us immensely. It’s something we work on every day pretty much. (MU played) zone, at times, a couple possessions. But our pressure changed the tempo of the game, and our efficiency on offense (12 assists on 14 hoops in the second half) …
“We shot 58 from the floor, 56 from three, and we made 10 free throws down the stretch (including 8-of-10 in the last 3:58) and only turned the ball over four times in the second half … We’re being unselfish, we’re moving the ball, but we cannot put the ball in the basket around the lane and it’s just killing us.”
So, the Herd heads into exams this week before battling the Bearcats that Marshall beat at their place in overtime last season, speaking of big tests.
“We clearly recognize, no one more than myself, that there are a lot of things we’ve got to get better at as we move forward,” Herrion said. “We’re still not anywhere close to where we need to be.”