Marshall basketball: Herd confident entering trip to face Jones, Knights
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -— The Marshall men's basketball team returns to the road — where it has yet to win this season — but this time, the Thundering Herd is facing an opponent it knows it can beat. It's already beaten this foe this season.
Marshall (11-15, 4-7 Conference USA) visits Central Florida at 7 tonight for the last time as C-USA opponents. The Knights (17-8, 7-4 C-USA) head to the Big East next season. While UCF sits in third in the conference standings and Marshall is ninth, it was the Herd who prevailed earlier this month at the Cam Henderson Center.
"That feels good," freshman guard Tamron Manning said. "That's a good confidence boost, I think, going into the game. We have that one up on them. But in conference play, everything kind of goes out the window."
Observers could have said that the first time the Herd and Knights played on Feb. 2. UCF entered the game winner of its previous four, while Marshall entered the loser of its previous three. That didn't matter, as the Herd had its best shooting night of the season, hitting 51.9 percent from the floor, and blocked 14 shots in a 75-71 win.
The Herd showed a calmness and resilience against UCF that had been hit-or-miss for much of the season.
Marshall trailed by four points with 6:56 left in the game, but rebounded to lead by as many as eight points with 17 seconds left.
"It was a really good win for us," Herrion said of that first game.
"We made great plays on both ends of the floor down the stretch. I don't know where it ranks. I'm not into that. But we found a way, and that's obviously something we've got to do, whether it's home or away."
Neither team has fared particularly well since that game.
The Knights are 2-2 since the loss, beating Southern Mississippi and East Carolina at home, then losing to Memphis and UTEP on the road. The Herd has struggled even more, losing three of four. After dropping road games to Tulane and UAB, MU squeaked out a home win over C-USA cellar-dweller Rice. Then a horrid stretch in the first half led to a home loss versus No. 21 Memphis.
The road remains unkind to Marshall, now 0-9 in true road games in 2012-13. Including tonight's game, the Herd plays three of its last five regular season contests on the road. Herrion said that, with the clock ticking on this season, the Herd can't have one or two players carry the load and expect to be successful.
"Everybody's got to step it up right now," Herrion said. "You've got to have four or five guys play well on a given night now at this time of year and that's what we need. Whether that's guys who start or come off the bench, we don't get too concerned with that."
Senior forward Keith Clanton and junior wing Isaiah Sykes remain the focal points of the Knights' game. The duo makes up the top two on the UCF roster in points, rebounds and assists. Sykes struggled, scoring 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting, but Clanton had a huge game against MU on Feb. 2, scoring 24 points with nine rebounds.
The Herd weathered Clanton's big day in the Henderson Center to score the upset. Manning said desperation played a big part in that. The Herd craved a win and knew what a victory over the Knights could do for its momentum.
A win might mean even more for the Herd now. Marshall must win out to finish the regular season above .500. The Herd hasn't finished below that mark at regular season's end since 2008-09, when it finished 15-16.
"The desperation has really increased," Manning said. "We need to get all the wins we can. The more wins we get the more confidence we get, whether it's on the road or at home. We have to play desperate and practice desperate, because we really need some more wins."
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.