Marshall basketball: Herd hosts patient SMU team coached by Larry Brown
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Time may be running out for the Marshall men's basketball team to make a run in Conference USA play - only 11 games remain before the conference tournament - but, at least for tonight's game against Southern Methodist University, the key could be patience.
The Thundering Herd hosts a Mustangs team at 7 p.m. that, as Coach Tom Herrion has seen on film, likes to take things slowly.
"They really run clock, go deep into the clock," Herrion said. "They run a lot of weave to kill time and then they'll run their set in the end."
Marshall (9-11, 2-3 C-USA) has prior experience against that type of offense, though the memories are not fond ones. Delaware State ground things to a halt against the Herd on Jan. 2, holding Marshall to 17 first-half points and upsetting the Herd at the Henderson Center, 53-51. So at least Marshall has an idea of what's coming and knows what it takes to stop it.
"We're going to try to pick our spots and try to create some tempo," Herrion said. "They're good at what they do, so yeah, you have to try to create tempo. You have to score the ball to get into some sort of press if you can. Pressure's good, but we have to score the ball to get into pressure.
"You've got to be patient," he continued. "You can't always impose your will, so you have to find times where hopefully we can."
The strategy hasn't worked too well for SMU (11-10, 1-5 C-USA) since the calendar turned to 2013. The Mustangs have lost three straight games and six of their last seven, and their 64-points-per-game scoring average is 254th-best in Division I.
SMU Coach Larry Brown, a Basketball Hall of Famer who won an NCAA title with Kansas and an NBA title with Detroit, relies heavily on his starting five. All five average at least 30 minutes a game, and Herrion said that, despite their record, they remain talented and dangerous. Sophomore guard Jalen Jones leads the Mustangs in scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (8.1 per game), while Kansas State transfer Nick Russell is second with 13.7 points per game and leads SMU with 4.2 assists per game.
The Herd doesn't want Southern Methodist to snap its slump against it, so the team will try to snap the Mustangs out of their deliberate style and turn up the tempo. Freshman guard Tamron Manning said Marshall needs patience and persistence to do it.
"I think it's a lot more mental than it is anything else," Manning said. "You've just got to buckle down and guard that little action up top. And once they get into their actual offense, just continue to guard. They'll make you guard late in the shot clock and the biggest thing is to rebound, because they're going to have to put up a shot late."
Rebounding isn't a problem for Marshall, whose 39.7 boards per game is 22nd-best in Division I. The Herd also did a better job scoring in its last game, a 73-72 loss at Memphis where Marshall had four chances to tie or take its first lead in the last 45 seconds. Those 72 points were the Herd's best scoring output on the road since its 103-100 double-overtime loss at Hofstra on Nov. 18. And now the team returns home for a two-game stand, where it's done quite well against C-USA foes.
Marshall thumped Tulsa by 18 and East Carolina by 21 in its first two home conference games. If the Herd wins tonight, it will earn a 3-0 home C-USA record for the first time. The last time Marshall started 3-0 at home in conference play was when it went 4-0 in the Mid-American Conference in the 1999-2000 season.
The Herd is dealing with some bumps and bruises. Leading scorer and assist man DeAndre Kane is recovering from a groin injury, while forward Elijah Pittman has been battling an illness that kept him out of the starting lineup against Memphis. Herrion said center Nigel Spikes, who hurt his ankle against Memphis, should be fine.
Junior guard D.D. Scarver said that, no matter the injury report, the Herd needs to keep its momentum at the Henderson Center.
"You've got to protect the home court, now," Scarver said. "It's just pride. You've got to hold it down. It's your home and you just have to be ready to play."
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.