Marshall basketball: Herd needs to show poise, toughness at Cincinnati
CINCINNATI -- Tom Herrion foresaw the early game struggles at UNC-Wilmington just like he can't help be see Cincinnati's 6-foot-9, 260-pound basketball behemoth Yancy Gates coming tonight.
In the first of a two road games in four days Tuesday, Herrion, Marshall's second-year coach, gathered players like DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts in a Wilmington, N.C., hotel and warned them of what could happen in the opening minutes of the team's first road test of the season.
"I don't consider myself a prophet or anything, but I expected it to a certain extent," Herrion said. "I talked to them about having poise and composure. If you're up 10-2 - poise. If you're down 10-2 - poise."
Marshall, of course, found itself down 10-2 and then 12-3, but controlled the game from there to improve to 4-0 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
The Herd took an overnight bus ride back to Huntington, then bused to Cincinnati on Thanksgiving to prepare for its next test, this time against a Big East program.
Poise? That's one p-word that again applies to tonight's 7 o'clock matchup at Fifth Third Arena.
"We're going to have to be physical," Herrion said. "(Cincinnati Coach) Mick Cronin knows what he's doing. Toughness and discipline are standards for his program. He coached under Bob Huggins and Rick Pitino.
"They are going to be physical."
That is why Herrion loaded his schedule with three Big East opponents and this is the first of the three. The Bearcats are off to a 3-1 start after getting stunned by Presbyterian on its home floor last Saturday.
That may inject a sliver of optimism into some opponents, but the loss bounced Cincinnati from the rankings, put a dent in Marshall's RPI and will likely give the Herd an opponent still smarting from an unexpected defeat.
Herrion, however, is more concerned with his own club at this point in the season.
The Herd coach is satisfied with the team's defense through four games, but there are two "areas of concern" on offense.
"We've been solid defensively, but we're still turning it over too much and we aren't shooting it well," he said.
Marshall ranks last in Conference USA with a 3-point percentage of .235 and the Herd is next-to-last in the league in turnovers-per-game with 17.
"And it's a lot of different guys doing it in a lot of different ways," Herrion said. "It's concerning. Alarming. Nothing is going to get easier for us."
Cincinnati went 26-9 last season, including 15-3 at home.
Gates, a Cincinnati native like his head coach, is the centerpiece of what the Bearcats have back from that team. He led Cincinnati in points, rebounds and blocked shots.
Herrion has a familiarity with Cronin, too.
Cronin is in his fifth season at Cincinnati and led the program to its first 20-win season since the days when Huggins patrolled the sidelines there. The 40-year-old Cronin already has 156 career victories and is three years younger than Herrion.
The two matched up frequently in the Big East when Herrion was an assistant at Pittsburgh.
"We each have our own identity and style, like all coaches," Herrion said. "He's a great coach. He's got Yancy Gates in there who will command and demand attention. He's got great perimeter guys. They are big, strong and physical and the guards will play with physicality.
"They are simply the next opponent on the schedule, but it is a very big test for us."
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CINCINNATI leads the all-time series 19-11 and has won eight of the last nine meetings with Marshall. The teams last met in Cincinnati in 2001 and the Bearcats edged the Herd, 79-75.
Marshall's first four games against top 10-ranked teams in history came to Cincinnati in a short stretch from 1958-61. The Herd lost all four games when the Bearcats were ranked Nos. 1, 1, 3 and 2.
Those were all Final Four teams. Cincinnati was led by Oscar Robertson in the first two of those meetings, with the last two of those UC teams winning NCAA championships.
Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.