BOGACZYK: Ezeigbo Playing Much Higher Percentages
The Word on the Herd-Jan. 7, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall has no listed record for season field goal percentage in its 45 seasons of women’s basketball.
Suffice it to say if senior Chukwuka Ezeigbo continues to shoot with her recent marksmanship, she may own what’s not in that record book.
As Coach Matt Daniel’s Herd (8-4, 0-1) visits Old Dominion (8-4, 1-0) on Thursday night, Ezeigbo leads more than Conference USA in field goal percentage. The 6-foot-3 post player from Trenton, N.J., leads all NCAA Division I players at .679 (62-of-89).
In Marshall’s loss Sunday to visiting Western Kentucky (12-2 and ranked No. 25 this week), Ezeigbo’s impressive performance – and against a quality team – included career highs of 23 points and 15 rebounds. She made 11-of-12 shots, and she helped defend WKU star Chastity Gooch into a 4-of-12 day.
“It just kind of happened,” Ezeigbo said of her fifth double-double this season and 11th in her MU career. “I wasn’t expecting a game like that at all. I just do what I have to do and if that comes along with scoring and doing well … I do what I have to do to help the team. If others aren’t having their best games, then it’s up to me to do more.”
There’s more to it than happenstance. After a 2-for-6 day in a Dec. 6 loss at Eastern Kentucky, Ezeigbo brought an increased dose of dedication to her game around the basket. She’s averaging 11.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, and her 96 career blocks rank fifth in Herd history.
She also has been able to settle into the season a year after she left the Herd for about a month following the death of her father, Ambrose Ezeigbo, and his formal funeral and burial in his native Nigeria.
“I would say I have more confidence now when I get the ball in the post,” Ezeigbo said of her transformation and strength inside. “I’ve been working on my game with Coach (Tony) Kemper after practice, and I’m concentrating on taking more of those shots.
“I’ve tried to work harder in the weight room and on the court and that’s helping me.”
Kemper, the Herd assistant coach who works with the “bigs,” said the player nicknamed “Chika” has found what works for her … and she’s made 27 of her last 30 shots.
“Really, it’s just very simple … finishes,” Kemper said. “Chika has just logged more hours now than any other year with the shots she gets. She works extremely hard at it, dedicated herself to improving and it shows … every game, every day. And she’s a great offensive rebounder and she gets a lot of looks at point-blank range.
“That’s probably the biggest change in her game this year is she’s just finishing those at such a higher clip than in the past. I just feel last year she went through a rough year with the passing of her dad. For any player, it’s really difficult to miss a month of practice in the season, and I think had she not gone through that, you’d have seen some of this kind of play from her last year, if it wasn’t for that tragic time in her life.
“She handled it as well as she could possibly handle it, but she did miss a month of basketball. That would stunt anybody’s growth.”
Ezeigbo, a biology major with a pre-med concentration (and a 3.27 cumulative GPA) has eyes on medical school, but Daniel has been contacted by some agents about Ezeigbo, who could have a pro hoops future if she wants it.
That’s then. What it’s about now is continuing to play at a high level for the only player still in the Herd program who played for former Coach Royce Chadwick before Daniel took over in 2012-13. She grasps that veteran status as she does those offensive rebounds.
“It does feel that way a little bit, because I’ve been here a while and played longer for Marshall than anybody here now,” Ezeigbo said, “but it’s a good feeling because then I can kind of push and encourage everybody, like ‘Come on, let’s go.’ I try to take on a responsibility for everybody, to lead the team in the right direction.
“I think the problem we had last year was the chemistry wasn’t there. We had a lot of new faces and a lot of us didn’t know teammates’ games, but now, we’ve become accustomed to one another, how they play, and it’s easier for us to gel.”
Kemper said Ezeigbo has made an attitude adjustment in her game as well.
“I think one thing that also happens is when a post player misses a shot -- certainly right around the basket -- they make you groan a little bit louder,” the Herd assistant said. “Last year, she shot it over 50 percent (.550), which is good. This year she’s shooting 70 percent, which is astronomical.
“No doubt there’s greater frustration for a player when you miss a shot in close, coaches, too, fans. She’s always worked really hard, and it stems from a game earlier this year (at Eastern Kentucky). Chika was frustrated with how she finished and I said we’ve got to go out there and practice these things. ‘Don’t be frustrated until we start logging hours out there and doing those things more.’ And she went to work.
“We aren’t out there for two hours extra. We’re basically making 50-70 shots a day and the ones she gets, it doesn’t take very long. She’s not one to go out there and wants to shoot a bunch of jump shots. She goes to work on the stuff she does in a game.
“And her work ethic really helps with that because if you say ‘Go,’ she goes really hard. You don’t ever have to deal with that. So for her to come out there and spend 10 minutes, she gets a lot done. She doesn’t take one rep off. She’s put in time, and it’s paying off. Her approach is tremendous.”
Ezeigbo’s plan is to take next year off before starting med school. She said she plans to apply at Marshall, West Virginia, VCUs Medical College of Virginia, the New Jersey Medical School (at Rutgers), Howard and Maryland. She wants to become a pediatrician.
In recent weeks, she’s had the right prescription for her game. In the last six games, Ezeigbo is shooting .776 (45-of-58) and averaging 16.0 points and 11.3 rebounds.
“Coach Kemper’s message on post play is ‘just be aggressive.’” Ezeigbo said. “Always be aggressive. Don’t go up soft. Try to make the shot and if you don’t, go after the rebound.
“One thing my dad always told me, and he said it before he passed away was ‘Put your 110 percent into everything you do and you reap what you sow.’ And so after he told me that, I try to apply that in everything I do … do the best in all I do.”
Marshall was picked to finish 14th and last this season in the C-USA coaches’ preseason poll. As the Herd gets into league play, Ezeigbo said her team should take a message from a competitive 67-53 loss to WKU, the league’s best club in non-conference play.
“We just can’t hang our heads,” she said. “I think that’s still our problem right now. Keep your head up; take it one play at a time. (The message) is that we can keep up. You just have to keep pushing back. We don’t have any plays to take off. You can’t do that and be successful.”