Marshall basketball: Inconsistent play still plagues Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- From the first half to the second half - even between parts within the first and second halves - the Marshall men's basketball team swung from one extreme to the other in Saturday's 71-59 loss to Memphis.
The Herd sprinted out to a 10-3 lead, only to finish the first half trailing by 17. Another flurry to start the second half cut the Tigers' lead to just five, but Memphis countered and extended its lead back to 13 just minutes later.
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion has compared his team to a prizefighter who can't take a punch. The Herd can land a couple of good blows, evident in its early runs in each half against Memphis. But when it comes to answering an opponent's response, Marshall has shown more often than not that it needs a stronger chin.
And with time running out before Marshall heads to Tulsa for the Conference USA Tournament - the Herd (11-15, 4-7) has five games left, two at home and three on the road, before then - the team must solve its inconsistency in order to have more than a puncher's chance in the postseason.
Herrion said following Saturday's game that the performance he got in the second half wasn't enough to overcome the struggles of the first.
"This was clearly a game of two halves for us," Herrion said. "The second (half) was a game of 'haves' and the first half was 'have-nots' in terms of our defense, and our scoring drought. We came out of the gate and made a few shots. It was a little bit of fool's gold, but we didn't get enough stops and went through a major drought. It was very inefficient in that stretch."
Marshall put Memphis on its heels in the opening minutes, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from Elijah Pittman and D.D. Scarver for that 10-3 lead. In the 10:10 after Scarver's 3, the Herd proceeded to make just two of its next 13 shots and commit six turnovers. That 10-3 lead turned into a 27-15 deficit and grew to a 43-26 hole at halfime.
"We regrouped at halftime and played like we needed to play," Herrion added. "We were down 17 against a top 25 team in the country. You have to play perfect, which we did for a while."
Perfection came in a 9:16 span to start the second half. Marshall forced Memphis into 1-for-11 shooting and five turnovers in that time, and the Herd made 6 of 12 shots from the floor. When Pittman made a free throw with 10:44 left in the game, Marshall was back in the contest, down just 46-41.
The Herd was throwing haymakers, but the Tigers wouldn't go down. Geron Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 10:30 left that sparked a 10-2 run and Marshall never came closer than within eight points of the lead again. The Tigers might have started the second half 1 for 11, but they made 10 of their last 18.
Marshall held the Tigers to 37.9 percent shooting in the second half, but allowed Memphis to shoot 51.4 percent in the first half. The Herd shot 44 percent in the second half, but struggled to shoot 33.3 percent in the first half. Marshall has now lost six of its last eight games and only one of those losses, a 73-72 setback at Memphis on Jan. 26, came by single digits.
The only consistent part of Marshall's game seems to be its inconsistency. The Herd is 10-3 at the Henderson Center, 1-11 everywhere else its played this season. It lost by one point against Memphis three days after losing by 56 at Southern Mississippi. It beat Central Florida, third place in C-USA, at home, but lost to Southern Methodist, 11th place in the conference, in the same building three days earlier.
Junior guard DeAndre Kane said one culprit could be a Marshall roster with many new pieces still trying to figure itself out deep into the season. Of the nine players averaging at least 10 minutes a game, four of them are either freshmen or first-year junior college transfers.
"We have a lot of new players," Kane said. "I think last year the team played together for two years. This year's there's a lot of new players. There are guys still trying to get chemistry together, guys trying to know the plays, guys still trying to know their spots, when to pick their spots and when not to pick their spots, when to shoot the ball, when not to shoot the ball. We'll get it together."
That the Herd hasn't yet has frustrated Kane to the point of fatigue. He's tired of losing. He hasn't lost at this pace at any point of his basketball career from high school to prep school to now. Bothered as he is, Kane refuses to give up hope. When he looks at Marshall's roster, he sees a group of players talented enough to still make waves in the C-USA Tournament.
"We're athletic," Kane said. "We're big, we're strong, we're fast. We can play. We've got a piece for every puzzle. We can put the puzzle together. We just have to do it. It's on us. Nobody's giving us wins. We're on our own."
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.