Dec. 16, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
CHARLESTON – Tamron Manning will have a homecoming, of sorts, when Marshall makes its first basketball visit in 11 seasons to defending NCAA champion Kentucky this Saturday.
Manning starred at Scott County High – only a 15-mile drive from Rupp Arena – and scored 28 points there in a Kentucky Sweet Sixteen championship loss to Louisville Trinity while making the All-State Tournament Team last March.
Whatever Manning’s experience in his return to Rupp, it can’t be one of much more pressure than he endured Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center, when he got a real opportunity at point guard as his Thundering Herd teammates tried to come to grips with 11th-ranked Cincinnati’s vise-like pressure in a 72-56 defeat.
After he played only 23 minutes over six games in the Herd’s first 10 dates, Manning was called off the bench by Herd Coach Tom Herrion just 4:48 into the game to stop the bleeding against the trapping pressure of the Bearcats (10-0). Coach Mick Cronin’s team turned over the Herd on nine of MU’s first 14 possessions and 11 times in the first 11 minutes.
“There was a little bit of nerves for me just from the difference in games (UC’s style of play),” Manning said afterward, “but once I scored and started handling it a little bit, I got more comfortable and into a groove. I got out of my nerves pretty quick.”
The 6-foot-4 freshman from Georgetown, Ky., finished with three points and four turnovers, but what was crucial for Marshall was that he was a settling factor – as much as possible against UC’s pressure outside and pounding inside – in his 30 minutes on the floor.
His only basket came on a 3-pointer from the right wing with 11:05 left in the first half, then cutting UC’s lead to 15-12 and ending a stretch of nine consecutive scoreless possessions for the Herd (6-5), six of those curbed by turnovers.
"It was tough to handle at first," Manning said of the Cincinnati pressure, which helped create MU’s season-high 20 turnovers. "But once we got comfortable, we started to handle it a little better.
“We jumped in the air to make a lot of passes, which was probably the most negative thing we did. But other than that as the game went on, I thought we handled it."
Manning also took advantage of the absences of freshman Kareem Canty (out for the season via NCAA initial ineligibility) and junior star DeAndre Kane, whose right hand injury has indefinitely cost Marshall its scoring leader and the nation’s No. 3 assist man.
“We missed Dre a lot, not just necessarily his scoring, but him just being out there,” Manning said. “He’s a big key to us and he makes us go sometimes. He’s our toughness, so I think we really miss a guy like that out there helping us in a game like this.”
Herrion said Manning “is “just getting his feet wet, but he has to get better, and he will. He wants to be a better player.”
With Savannah State (5-6) visiting the Henderson Center on Wednesday night before the Herd heads west on I-64 to Kentucky (7-3), perhaps Manning will get more opportunity. He certainly didn’t back away against the unbeaten Bearcats, who turned the Herd over only twice in the final nine minutes of the first half.
“I was actually looking forward to the game for a while,” said Manning, whose only 3-point attempt was part of a very good 8-of-12 day behind the arc for MU. “The pressure that Cincinnati plays is really tough to play against, and I felt like if you go against that kind of pressure, you’ve just got to stay poised, because they’re going to turn you over.”
“You’ve just got to make sure you don’t let one turnover turn into three turnovers, if you know what I mean. I was just trying to stay as poised as possible, even though it was pretty much my first game.
“I think playing this game here is going to help me and team a lot because their pressure is about as good as it gets. We’re not going to see a lot like that. The only pressure I see like that is probably in practice when Dre’s out there.”
Junior college transfers Elijah Pittman and D.D. Scarver scored a game-high 20 points apiece to lead Marshall. The rest of the Herd was a combined 4-of-18. Cincinnati got 21 more shots than Marshall.
And while Manning accorded himself well in the loss, senior Robert Goff also came off the bench to scored seven points and grab four rebounds in 15 minutes. He was the most productive of Herrion’s inside men, as senior starters Dennis Tinnon and Nigel Spikes combined for no field goals in their 64 minutes.
“We didn’t play strong with the ball,” Herrion said. “I need some of my older guys to step up. I don’t think we got that tonight.”
Cincinnati was plus-9 in rebounding and turnover margin (a 40-16 scoring bulge in the paint and 20-4 on points off turnovers), and Herrion called his team’s 20 turnovers “a problem any night … a bad, bad number leading to failure.”
Manning said the Herd’s frustration was increased because when it did solve the Bearcats’ doubling and trapping out front, MU struggled to convert from close range – a recent issue Herrion has noted repeatedly.
“I think that all comes down to focus,” Manning said. “When we get the ball in the paint, guys just have be strong and focus and get it in there. Cincinnati had active big guys, and they knew what they were doing. So, I think we’ve got to be more focused and make easy shots because once we beat the pressure, that should be the easy part, finishing.”
The Herd’s turnovers came at the start and the finish. In the game’s middle 17:45, Herrion’s club gave it away only twice, but then had seven in the final 10:30.
“I think (the Bearcats) backed away from their pressure a little bit,” Manning said, discussing the game after those first 11 minutes and 11 turnovers. “but I think, in a sense, they wanted to turn it up more because they felt they should have kept turning us over.”
So, they tried to turn it up a little bit more, but I think all-in-all, we handled it pretty good … We got more comfortable as the game went on.
“The first 11 turnovers were just silly mistakes, silly turnovers. Once we got used to what they were going to do, going to trap us, we started being ball-strong and making the right passes.”