Marshall basketball: Tinnon says Herd needs to work during break
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The holiday break will be a break in name only, as far as a number of Marshall men's basketball players were concerned Saturday night.
Between family dinners and opening gifts, senior forward Dennis Tinnon said he will be spending plenty of time in the gym. So did senior center Nigel Spikes and junior forward Elijah Pittman, plans sealed by a humbling 82-54 loss to Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
The Thundering Herd (7-6) won't play another game until Jan. 2 when it hosts Delaware State at 7 p.m. That's a long time to reflect on the problems that plagued the team in the season's first 13 games. When the team comes together again Thursday, it will try to move forward collectively, as the Conference USA schedule looms on the horizon.
Tinnon said each player needs to ask himself some important questions over the break. The answers, he added, should be quite simple.
"Can I go put up 500 free throws?" he asked. "Can I go do a thousand layups so we won't miss so many? If you love the game of basketball, you're going to put in the work to make sure you're a better player."
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said fixing the Herd's offensive woes must be a primary focus. He felt the team played well defensively at times against the Wildcats, but Marshall's inability to score put the onus on the defense to be as close to perfect as possible.
"Our offensive inefficiency right now is destroying us," he said. "It's putting so much pressure on our defense every possession down. You can't do that against any good team, let alone on the road at Kentucky in this atmosphere."
In the first half against the Wildcats, Marshall missed two of four layups, plus another seven of nine shots in and around the low post. In the second half, the Herd didn't fare any better, missing two of six layups and nine of 11 shots in and around the low post. Free throws also remain a problem. Marshall made just 14 of 26 against Kentucky and its 58.8-percent clip from the line is dead last in Conference USA.
Marshall's young point guards - sophomore Chris Martin and freshman Tamron Manning - struggled against the Wildcats' defense. The two combined for just one assist against five turnovers. As a team, the Herd recorded six assists and 17 turnovers. As junior guard DeAndre Kane remains out with a broken right hand, Martin and Manning will continue to handle the lion's share of Marshall's point-guard duties.
It's not just improved shooting and offensive efficacy that Marshall players must work on, Spikes said. The Herd also has to become sharper mentally. He considers that a little perplexing, since he's one of seven juniors or seniors on the roster.
"Mental focus, that's our biggest breakdown," he said. "When things go bad for a little bit, we mentally break down. That's when we allow the turnovers, have slip ups on defense, bad execution on offense.
"It is kind of surprising. I guess our leadership isn't as strong as we need it to be. We're going to change that. Our season is not over. We're going to pick it up."
The Herd doesn't have much choice if it wants to give itself a shot at a good postseason tournament. Heading into the Kentucky game, Marshall had no wins over a team in the RPI top 100. It did, however, have three losses to teams with an RPI of 103 or worse. That index plays a pretty big part in NCAA Tournament berths, and those numbers aren't on Marshall's side.
That means the Herd likely will have to win the C-USA Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament. When Marshall returns to the court, it will have only the Delaware State game and a Jan. 5 trip to Ohio before C-USA play begins.
Time is running out for Marshall. When the team comes together again on the practice court, it will be putting in plenty of work. Herrion said that was a given. But Tinnon thinks that work should begin for every player a lot earlier.
"I hope that everybody else that's going home and taking a break, they're able to realize that there's something they need to work on to make us a better team."
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.