Marshall basketball: Herd seeks momentum as regular season winds down
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall men's basketball team had a longer time than usual to prepare for Saturday's game at Houston.
The Thundering Herd hasn't played since last Saturday's home loss to UAB. That mid-week bye gave Marshall extra time to reflect on what went wrong against the Blazers, and it also gave the team extra time to prepare for the home stretch. After Marshall plays Houston at 2 p.m. (WCHS telecast), it has just two more games until the Conference USA tournament.
"It gives us time to work on a lot of things and get mentally focused," senior center Nigel Spikes said of the week between games. "We can get prepared to finish up the season strong."
The Herd (12-16, 5-8) is looking for any type of momentum entering its final three regular season games. The 52-48 loss to the Blazers was Marshall's 11th loss in the last 16 games. The Herd has not won consecutive games since the beginning of December and has one just one true road game this season.
That road win - at Central Florida, where the Herd had its best shooting performance of the season - was followed by the UAB loss and Marshall's worst shooting performance of the season. The Herd shot just 26.3 percent from the floor, missing 42 of the 57 shots it took, including 23 of the 26 3-pointers it took.
That offensive ineptitude wasted a good defensive performance. Marshall held UAB to 30.2 percent shooting from the floor and the Blazers made just four of 18 3-pointers.
"This time of the year, you can't be that inefficient offensively," Marshall Coach Herrion said. "It was collective the other night. You can have a guy or two, maybe, have an off night. But it was just entirely, the group as a whole."
Herrion said the Cougars will give his Herd a run in the athleticism department. That's not something a lot of teams in Conference USA can do. For instance, UAB had just two players standing 6-foot-6 or taller, while the Herd has seven players standing 6-8 or taller. Houston is a little bit better in that regard. Six players on the Cougars roster stand 6-7 or taller.
Houston uses that size to average 77.8 points per game, 13th best in Division I, and also average 38.9 rebounds per game. That's 26th best in the country and even better than Marshall, who ranks 30th nationally averaging 38.6 rebounds per game.
That might not be good news for the Herd. Despite their height disadvantage, the Blazers still outrebounded Marshall 50-45.
The Cougars are led by sophomore guard Joseph Young and sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas. Both are in C-USA's top five in scoring - Young ranking second at 17.8 points per game and Thomas ranking fourth at 16.7 points per game. Thomas also ranks second in the conference in rebounding, averaging 9.7 per game.
"They're really athletic and talented," Herrion said. "They have great size. They're a very gifted offensive club. They're young, but very talented, explosive."
The Cougars (15-11, 4-9) had their record partially built on a pillow-soft non-conference schedule and are a full game behind Marshall in the league standings. The Cougars' last setback came Wednesday in a 63-53 loss at UTEP, their third straight. And while the Cougars are the conference's top scoring team, they also have its worst scoring defense, allowing 72.3 points per game.
That could be some positive news for a Marshall team struggling to score. Spikes said the Herd's inability to put the ball in the hoop - Marshall is 10th in C-USA in field goal percentage and last in 3-point field goal and free throw percentage - has been tough to stomach. Yet he said the team must persevere. The Herd made a run to the Conference USA title game last season, and a conference tournament win will be their only ticket to the NCAA tournament.
"It's really frustrating, but it happens," Spikes said. "It's basketball. A lot of teams have a really good season. Some have a bad season. But if the season's still going, you can't put your head down. You've got to keep pushing. You never know what will happen around conference tournament time."
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.