Marshall basketball: Rice could give Herd problems
HUNTINGTON - The Marshall men's basketball team entered last week looking for a road win. Right now, it's looking for a win, period.
"We're struggling," senior forward Dennis Tinnon said. "The stats show it. The numbers show it. We've just got to keep looking forward. We can't look back. We've got to make sure we take care of business at home. We can't let these two we have here slip away."
What's immediately in front of the Thundering Herd (10-14, 3-6 Conference USA) is its game at 7 tonight against Rice (5-18, 1-8 C-USA). The Owls sit at the bottom of the C-USA standings and the Cam Henderson Center will feature two teams trying to pull themselves out of deep slumps.
The Herd has lost six of its last eight games, returning from last week's road trip to Tulane and the University of Alabama at Birmingham still winless on the road this season. Double-digit losses to the Green Wave and Blazers left the Herd 0-9 in true road games.
It's a skid that had Marshall Coach Tom Herrion comparing his team to a prizefighter who can't take a punch.
The Owls are trying to climb out of an even deeper hole. Rice has won just two games in its last 13. It's the worst scoring (59.7 points per game), shooting (39.8 percent from the floor) and rebounding (25.7 per game) team in the conference. Yet Herrion said Rice will present its share of problems.
Senior guard Tamir Jackson leads Rice with 16 points and six rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Julian DeBose averages 10 points per game and shoots 41.8 percent from 3-point range, the seventh best rate in Conference USA.
"They'll shrink the game a little bit," he said. "They can be very deliberate at times, and they shoot the 3 extremely well."
No team in Conference USA has shot more 3-pointers than Rice this season (504). No team has made more (171), either. That could be worrisome for Marshall, which sits at the bottom of the conference in 3-point field goal percentage defense (37 percent) after the weekend. Tulane and UAB combined to make 20 of 41 shots from beyond the arc.
Tinnon said the key to turning around the Herd's 3-point defense is to get aggressive early against the Owls. By putting a body on the ball-handler before he gets into shooting range, Marshall might be able to fluster him and create turnovers.
"We've got to start pressing up on guys, not letting them get the opportunity to come down to the 3-point line and be able to shoot," Tinnon said. "We've just got to get up on them right away.
As soon as they cross half-court, just get up in them."
The Herd does have the luxury of playing at home, where it's played well most of this season. In Marshall's last home game, a win over the University of Central Florida, the Herd absorbed the Knights' body blows and punched back. UCF led as late as 4:41 left in the game, but the Herd prevailed 75-71. Herrion wasn't going to hang all his team's hopes on one performance, but it could provide a blueprint for reversing its fortunes.
"I don't necessarily point to one game," Herrion said. "We have to understand what things do put us into a position to be successful and what things don't."
The Herd hasn't seen much success since the calendar turned to 2013, but Tinnon thinks a win tonight could catapult the Herd into the home stretch. Marshall's postseason hopes are hinging more and more on winning the Conference USA tournament in Tulsa, and the Herd needs to build some momentum before it leaves for Oklahoma.
"We've got to get one," Tinnon said. "I don't know what we've got to do to do it, but we've got to find some way to get that win. I think we can go on a stretch with a win. We have to go out and just play."
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.