Dec. 21, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The performance in the last two days for Coach Matt Daniel’s team was very different in the classroom and on the basketball floor.
When first-semester grades were posted Wednesday, the Marshall women’s team had a team 2.99 GPA – “our goal is a team 3.0, and we have only two Ds on our entire roster and not that many Cs,” Daniel said.
At the Henderson Center on Thursday afternoon, the Thundering Herd has plenty of D – and needed it – in outlasting Furman 52-46. And while Daniel’s team struggled with its shot – a season-low .304 percentage from the field – the Herd had 8 steals, 6 blocks and limited the Paladins (5-7) to 32.2 percent.
There also was a significant first-half stretch in which the Paladins went scoreless over 9:09 and 16 possessions, turning it over eight times in that stretch as the Herd built a 20-8 bulge.
Freshman point guard Norrisha Victrum – playing against a foe from her home state of South Carolina, led the Herd with 13 points, including 7-of-7 at the free throw stripe. Even bigger, Daniel said, Victrum turned it over only twice, as Marshall (6-5) bounced back from lackadaisical defensive play in last weekend’s home loss to neighboring rival Ohio.
A good portion of credit for the Herd’s success belonged to fellow guard Erica Woods, who added to a big week that started Sunday when she earned her MU bachelor’s degree in physical education and sports marketing at midyear graduation – in 3½ years.
Although Woods finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals, Daniel said it is as much the junior’s presence as anything that makes a difference.
“Erica is a very calming influence on our team,” Daniel said. “Everybody is waiting for her message, and whatever message she sends, everybody’s listening, whether it’s good or bad. So, there’s one point where Erica played the one (point guard) today. She’s literally played one through five, and that’s not uncommon for me, but it’s probably uncommon for her.
“Her stoic behavior on the floor is a calming influence at times. And when she gets rattled, it can cause everybody else to get rattled, and I don’t think she realizes that as much as she would like to, but it’s coming with time.”
Woods, a Bermuda native by way of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., comes by that maturity and calmness more naturally than some of her other teammates. She has a 22-month-old son, Zion. She also said a good dose of “my calmness probably comes from my father (Eric), because he’s pretty conservative and reserved.”
Woods had two of the game’s biggest offensive plays. After Furman had rallied to a tie at 33, the 5-foot-9 guard drive and hit a scoop shot with 11:38 left to give the Herd the lead for good. On Marshall’s next possession, she saw a Paladin trap coming and delivered a perfect pass to Veronica Ruiz, who used a post spin move to score.
Daniel used his sixth starting combination in 11 games, a three-guard set of Woods, Victrum and sophomore scoring leader Shay Weaver. Ruiz (7 points, 7 rebounds) and backup Leandra King (7 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) had their way inside with the Paladins, but Daniel wasn’t happy with the Herd’s interior defense.
Woods said Daniel’s changing lineup and morphing rotation “is good because you have to know everyone else’s positions and it makes you a more complete basketball player and you play more aggressive that way. It improves you basketball IQ.”
Woods said her usually unflappable nature on the floor and adapting to a coaching change that brought in Daniel didn’t make her “team mother” role any more difficult.
“I’ve always kind of been that type of player,” she said. “My dad is very calming also. Honestly, it just comes naturally to me, so I knew once Coach Daniel and his (assistants) got here they just told me, ‘E, take care of the babies. Take care of them all and everything will be all right. Just be the calming influence, and I’m proud I’ve been able to do that so far.”
The Herd faces Tennessee Tech (5-6), at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Henderson Center.
Daniel said his team will break for Christmas after the game, then return to campus for a Dec. 26 night practice and begin preparations for a Dec. 30 game at Navy – the only game in an 18-day stretch before Conference USA play starts Jan. 10 at Southern Miss.