Marshall basketball: Aggressive defense in post could help Herd on road
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Senior center Nigel Spikes doesn't plan on his role as the leader of Marshall's swat team to be a one-night-only deal.
Spikes rejected nine of the Thundering Herd's 14 blocked shots in its 75-71 upset Saturday of Central Florida. The Herd returns to the road starting at 8 p.m. today at Tulane. It's been a frontier that, this season, has brought little fun and zero wins. Marshall (10-12, 3-4 Conference USA) is 0-7 in true road games in 2012-13.
Spikes, who now sits ninth on the Herd's career blocked shots list, said a renewed commitment to being aggressive in the post could help Marshall score that coveted first road win.
"I can definitely do that every night," Spikes said. "That's something I'm going to try and accomplish every game, to play aggressive like that. It benefits the team as well."
His nine blocks against the Knights on Saturday tied him with three others for the fourth-best single-game total in the Marshall record books. But that was just the shiniest highlight of his night. Spikes also scored 11 points, his first double-digit scoring game since finishing with 10 against North Carolina-Wilmington on Dec. 1.
And he did it by hitting five of six free throws, the most he's made from the charity stripe since hitting five of eight free throws against Savannah State on Dec. 19.
He's a healthier basketball player, finally recovered from his September 2011 patella tendon surgery that limited him his junior year. He finished that year with 23 blocks. He already has 37 blocks this year with nine regular-season games left. Spikes said his play against the Knights was a conscious effort to boost his intensity.
"I was talking about that the night before with (teammate DeAndre Kane)," Spikes said. "It's just something I needed to do that's going to help me out in the long run, to just be more aggressive. And that kicked in during the course of the (UCF) game."
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said that, as one of the elder statesmen on the roster, Spikes is starting to turn it on at a good time.
"I think he was playing with an aggressive mindset, as a senior should, coming down the home stretch," he said. "He hears the clock ticking in the back of his head. You've got to play with urgency. Collectively, we've got to play that way."
It seems that's been hard for the Herd to do on the road this season. Marshall lost by one at Memphis in its last road game, but its average losing margin on the road is 21.1 points per game.
The Green Wave (14-8, 2-5) could make for a tough visit, though it has stumbled in conference play. Tulane built its non-conference record feasting mostly on lesser foes. The Green Wave's non-conference strength of schedule ranks 326th in Division I.
Tulane is led by junior forward Josh Davis, who tops the Green Wave in scoring (17.1 points per game) and rebounding (9.9 per game). Those averages rank second and first in C-USA, respectively, and play a major factor in Tulane's plus-5.7 rebounding margin, third best in the conference. It's a quantum leap from the Green Wave's plus-0.6 rebounding margin last season.
Sophomore guard Ricky Tarrant, a preseason all-C-USA first team pick, is second on the team with 14.8 points per game and leads Tulane with 2.7 assists per game. Herrion said the Green Wave won't make it easy with Coach Ed Conroy's spread offense.
"They'll still want to push and they'll shoot it quick," he said.
"They shoot 3s and shoot them well. When they make 3s, they're a different team. They're shooting quick in transition when they have the opportunity, but in the half court, they'll spread and be a little patient. The spacing on the floor, they try to get you extended so they can dribble-drive and kick or dribble-drive for scoring opportunities."
The Herd needs to notch its first road win if it wants to climb into the conference's top four and earn a first-round bye in the C-USA tournament. Spikes feels that Marshall's surge against UCF shows it can make a late run.
"With the team being on the same page, we can get this road win," he said. "We're desperate for one."
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.