Marshall basketball: Stronger first-half play is key for Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Senior forward Dennis Tinnon was asked which Marshall everyone should expect to see moving forward - the one from Saturday's first half against Coppin State or the one from the second half?
"The second half," Tinnon said.
That's the one the Herd, coaches and fans would love to see. That team shot 58 percent from the floor, hit 5-of-9 free throws and smothered Coppin State on defense en route to a 69-63 comeback win.
It was a much different squad than the one that shot just 31.6 percent from the floor and hit just 2-of-16 3-pointers in the first half, allowed uncontested layups and 3s and went into halftime trailing the Eagles by eight points.
Considering the Thundering Herd's upcoming schedule, that first-half team would be an unwelcome sight. Marshall (6-4) waits until Saturday for its next game, a 2 p.m. tipoff at the Civic Center against Cincinnati (CBS Sports Network). Then comes a Dec. 19 home date with Savannah State and a Dec. 22 visit to Rupp Arena to play defending national champion Kentucky.
Tinnon said Marshall's struggles with a 1-8 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team gave them a blueprint of what to do and what not to do when the Herd returns to the court.
"It opened our eyes to say you can't really forget about any team," Tinnon said. "Any team can come in and get a win. It showed us also that we need to play defense. Otherwise, we'll find ourselves trying to dig ourselves back out of a grave that we won't be able to get out of."
Defense was the key to Marshall's comeback. The Herd used a 2-2-1 trap in the second half and the Eagles went from shooting 53.8 percent in the first half to shooting 40.6 percent in the second half. The biggest difference came from 3-point range. Coppin State shot 5-of-9 beyond the arc in the first half. In the second, the Eagles made just 2-of-10.
There remained the matter of the first half. Communication breakdowns caused defensive lapses that allowed Coppin State to drive through gulf-wide lanes for dunks and layups. Sixteen of Marshall's 20 offensive rebounds came in the first half, but the Herd had just seven second-chance points to show for it. Missed layups led to offensive boards, but led to more missed layups.
It's not that the Herd hasn't historically struggled in the game after playing West Virginia. Until winning Saturday, Marshall hadn't beaten its' post-WVU opponent since beating Ohio on Jan. 24, 2004.
But Herrion was a little surprised Saturday night, considering how well the Herd had practiced prior to playing Coppin State.
"We were really energized (Friday)," Herrion said. "That obviously is a concern when you come off an emotional rivalry game like West Virginia. I wasn't as concerned leaving practice (Friday) or (Saturday) at shootaround. We had good focus and good energy."
Senior center Nigel Spikes said letdowns can happen, but they can't be allowed to linger.
"Every team has games like this," he said. "It's something you've just got to look at, learn from and move forward. You can't hold your head down."
A Coppin State hangover would be bad against the Bearcats (9-0), currently ranked 11th in the country. Cincinnati is fourth in Division I in scoring (84.2 points per game) and second in rebounding (46.8 per game).
The Herd did find some good things during Saturday's game. Freshmen guards DeVince Boykins and Tamron Manning played three and 11 total minutes, respectively, before Saturday's game. They played 11 and 12 minutes, respectively, against Coppin State, which should help deepen Marshall's rotation.
Still, the first-half doldrums need some work, Spikes said. He figures that point will be made during practice this week.
"That's going to be a big topic of discussion," Spikes said. "We had a lot of energy in the last two practices and tonight we just came out a little flat. We're going to work on that. We've got a young team and we'll get it together."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.