Marshall basketball: Kentucky pushed Herd around in paint
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Marshall considers the paint its domain. It wants to dominate the glass. It wants to control the play around the rim.
Against Kentucky, the Thundering Herd got to see how the other half lives.
Swallowed up underneath and eclipsed by physically bigger opponents, the Herd felt what it was like to be the dominated team in the post. The Wildcats' size, strength and ability to rule down low allowed them to sprint away from Marshall, 82-54, Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Physical play is the Herd's M.O., Coach Tom Herrion said, because there's no other choice.
"We're a physical club," he said. "We've got to be. It's the only chance we've got. We're short, guard-wise, with Kane out, so it hurts us with our offensive flow and our ball movement."
At 41.5 rebounds per game, Marshall is Conference USA's No. 2 rebounding team. Its 4.46 blocks per game is third in the conference. Against Kentucky, the high top was on the other foot. The Wildcats outrebounded Marshall 48-43 and pulled down 17 offensive boards. Kentucky turned those into 19 second-chance points, while the Herd had just eight. The Wildcats also blocked seven shots.
All that added up to a startling gap in points in the paint. Kentucky destroyed Marshall in that category, scoring 52 points to the Herd's 20. Senior forward Dennis Tinnon said the Wildcats' length inside was difficult to handle. Forward Alex Poythress, a 6-foot-7 freshman who pulled down nine rebounds, was the smallest the Herd had to contend with. Kentucky also featured 6-10 freshman forward Nerlens Noel, who had 11 rebounds, and 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein, who had three blocks.
"They were really physical," Tinnon said. "Trying to put a body on them, at times I would put my body on them, but with them being so long, I can't even get up there. I've got my man boxed out. By the time I jump to go up, his hands are there."
Kentucky did the most damage in the paint during the second half, when the Wildcats turned what was a two-point game 51 seconds into the period into a blowout.
The Wildcats led by as many as 31. In the first half, the Herd employed a good bit of zone defense and Kentucky tried to counter from the 3-point line. That didn't work, as the Wildcats made just 1 of 13 first-half 3-pointers.
In the second half, Kentucky started to push the ball down low, with much better results. The Wildcats made 16 of 32 second-half shots, going 2 for 4 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Herd shot 29.5 percent from the floor for the entire game, making just eight shots in the first half and going long streaks without a basket.
"I'm not shocked," Tinnon said of Kentucky's dominance in the post. "These guys are huge. They're twice my size. These are the things they're supposed to be doing as big men. But it's my job to stand in there. I guess I've got to get in the weight room to get stronger to stop those 7-footers."
At 6-10, Marshall center Nigel Spikes is the tallest of the Herd's Saturday lineup. He agreed that the Wildcats size down low allowed them to pull ahead.
"They rebound excellently," he said. "They play hard. They're good hustle players. You really see it on film and you saw it (Saturday). With a team like this, if you slip up, every position on the court has to be played well. They took advantage of a lot of miscues we had."
Kentucky Coach John Calipari lauded Marshall for its physical style, saying it was exactly the type of team Kentucky needed to play to prepare itself for the rest of the season. Herrion said the Wildcats fared very well.
"I'd like to think our team, physically, can play against a lot of teams in the country," he said. "We usually try to lay the wood on people and I thought they responded pretty well. Bodies were flying today for both teams, body on body. I think some games, they might have bounced off some guys and not responded. Tonight, I thought they played at a physical level. "
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.