Feb. 15, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When you’ve won eight games and you’re entering the last month of the basketball season, any win is a big one.
However, there was something different about Marshall’s 59-47 triumph over UTEP in a Conference USA women’s game Thursday night.
“That’s a good team,” first-year Thundering Herd Coach Matt Daniel said of the Miners (18-5, 6-4). “And, hey, we’ve got a win streak, a home win streak.”
The Miners, who entered the game No. 68 in the RPI, are the best team the Herd (8-15, 2-8) has beaten. Marshall held UTEP to its scoring low for the season, and the Herd had four scorers in double-figures for only the second game under Daniel. The other was in a 70-45 romp past Ball State back in mid-November.
UTEP’s 28.8 field goal percentage was the low for a Herd for in C-USA play this season. Only one other MU foe, Ball State, has had a worse game (25.0 percent) from the floor.
“That’s a good team, but that’s more us, more of the team we want to coach, hopefully the teams we see here in the future,” Daniel said. “You’re dangerous all over the floor. You want to take away this, we’ll take that. You’re trying to play checkers. We have an offense called checkers, and it’s playing gaps and matchups.
“We regained focus after the pregame. We regained focus after they’d make a play. We regained focus after we’d not make a play. I think that those are three things that were huge for us.”
Junior forward Suporia Dickens led Marshall scoring with 15 points and Erica Woods scored 12 to go with seven rebounds, but a big difference was off the Herd bench, where Shay Weaver (13) and Leandra King (10) combined for 23 to UTEP’s four points by reserves.
On Friday morning in his office, Daniel got a bit emotional discussing the triumph, while praising his team’s defense – “UTEP had only 11 points in the first 17 minutes,” he said – and the Herd’s ability to deal with some in-house issues in pregame.
The Herd coach isn’t one to put those kinds of issues into “minor” or “major” columns. What he was happy about was that the two wrongs – one involving a team uniform choice and the other with a player trying to grab a “quick snack,” he said – were put into context and into the background to play the Miners.
“I can see it coming every night, but sometimes that changes at the drop of a hat,” Daniel said when asked about his team’s steps forward as he builds a program. “We are as strong or as weak as we want to be and one play can make or break us with this group, break our backs or heart or linger, or one play can put us over the hump where we go get after it.
“I hang my hat on the effort and the attitude and preparation that we do it with. I think the rest takes care of itself. We had a couple things happen before the game that could have thrown us off and I could have let slide, but I didn’t. We could have just tried to get through the night, but I don’t think that’s right.
“I believe that for saying that, speaking up and trying to do the right thing instead of trying to outscore somebody, that makes shots go down, that helps you get stops …. And that makes me emotional at little bit. I do believe that, and it’s hard to do, but the timing is everything. And then their demeanor when they know they’ve made a mistake … so many things, so do you address that or just let it go? That’s the battle.”
The Herd, which next heads to UAB (14-9, 5-5) for a Sunday afternoon game, had a season-high 10 3-point field goals in the win – four by Dickens. Daniel, who took Central Arkansas from 6-23 in its first Division I season to 21, 21 and 24 wins before heading to Marshall, was asked to compare the Herd’s triumph over UTEP to perhaps a signature win by his UCA clubs.
“I don’t know, because that’s not really how I function,” said Daniel, a task-at-hand focus kind of guy. “We beat Indiana and Alabama at home last year. Maybe Tulsa. Our first group (2008-09) there, we got beat at Tulsa bad (63-38) and the next year we came back and beat Tulsa (86-77) handily at home. And it was like, ‘Oh, OK, so people noticed.
“That’s not really what I’m into, but hey, we’ve got a home-game win streak. I still follow Central Arkansas; those are my kids (he recruited). We had a 22-game home win streak (second nationally to defending NCAA champ Baylor) that’s ended this year, and that’s disheartening.
“But Central Arkansas has lost five in a row, and last night lost at home to (former Herd Coach) Royce Chadwick and (Texas A&M-)Corpus Christi, which is 3-20. My point is, you can’t take anything for granted. Everybody can coach. Everybody can play.”
Daniel pointed out that the Herd has either “won a half in just about every game, especially in conference, and it’s interesting if you go back. And that’s kind of phenomenal, but it’s also elusive to say the least. We weren’t picked to win a game, last place (by C-USA coaches). And I can see it coming, but it comes and goes.”
Success helps underscore Daniel’s teaching points, on and off the floor, and he knows that. So does his team.
“I addressed that stuff before the game because, one, it cleared the air … talk about the elephant in the room,” he said. “Two, it sets the tone of, hey, we’re still going to do right no matter what’s going on, even though we’re not winning games or whatever.
“Bottom line, you have to be willing to go risk it all, without reward on every single play, and we fight that a little bit. I want them to compete on every single play.
“We need to risk it all on every play, and there’s a chance there’s no reward at the end of it. But sometimes the process is the reward. That’s how you get to where we want to go.”
After the trip to UAB – which won at the Henderson Center 61-45 back on Jan. 27 – Marshall plays three of its final five regular-season games at home before heading to the C-USA Tournament in Tulsa, scheduled March 13-16.
The Herd is home to East Carolina on Thursday night at 7 p.m.