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Marshall basketball: Herd ready for a fresh start

HUNTINGTON - The Marshall men's basketball team can wipe the slate clean starting now in preparation for this week's Conference USA tournament.

But, Thundering Herd Coach Tom Herrion said, the same can be said for all 11 teams in this year's field.

"Whatever seed you come in, it doesn't matter," Herrion said Sunday. "Every team goes in thinking that way. That's what tournament play is all about. It's survive and advance in its simplest terminology. All teams' focus is simply to win that next game."  

Marshall's next game is 9:30 p.m. Wednesday versus Tulane  in the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. The Herd (13-18, 6-10 C-USA) is the No. 9 seed facing the eighth-seeded Green Wave (18-13, 6-10 C-USA), and will enter that contest trying to bounce back from its regular-season-ending 86-79 loss at East Carolina.

The problems Marshall faced against ECU mirrored the problems the Herd has faced for most of the year. Once again, Marshall had trouble defending the entire floor, and especially the 3-point line. The Pirates made 24 of 46 shots overall (52.2 percent) and 10-of-20 from beyond the arc (50 percent).

That's a big switch from Marshall's first game versus ECU, when the Herd held the Pirates to 32.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from the 3-point line. The Herd led the Pirates on Saturday, 62-59, with 5:58 left in the game, but ECU's Miguel Paul scored seven straight points to give the Pirates a 66-62 advantage.

"They made some plays and then we made plays," Herrion said. "We didn't get enough quality stops down the stretch. I thought our offense was more than good enough to win the game. We took the lead because we got stops and played good defense in transition."

Marshall is ninth in the 12-team Conference in field goal percentage defense (44.2 percent allowed) and last in 3-point field goal percentage defense (37.1). Opponents have shot better than that from the floor in seven of the Herd's last 10 games. They've shot better than that from the 3-point line in five of Marshall's last 10 games.

All that adds up to Marshall's lowest regular-season win total since the Herd finished 12-18 in the 2006-07 regular season. The Herd's 6-10 C-USA record was its worst in league play since finishing 5-9 in its inaugural season.

The Herd's defensive woes Saturday spoiled a career-best offensive performance from Robert Goff. The senior forward obliterated his career scoring high by scoring 27 points versus the Pirates. His previous best was 14 points last season versus Belmont. Elijah Pittman scored 21 points and DeAndre Kane scored 20 versus ECU, but only three other Herd players scored at all, and none of those three scored more than Dennis Tinnon's six points.

Still, while a fresh start is a good idea, the Herd's players won't forget what it was able to do in last season's C-USA tournament. Marshall was the No. 6 seed in that bracket, but surged into its first Conference USA title game, ultimately losing to top-seeded Memphis.

"It is a reference point for us, because we have a majority of our guys that went on that run with us last year," said Herrion, who returned nine players, including three starters, from that tournament runner-up team. "Last year's team is totally different from this year's team. Starting (Saturday) night on the way home, we've been preparing. We've got to have great focus going into this week."

And, in order to eclipse last year's tournament run, win the title and snatch C-USA's automatic berth, Marshall has to do something it hasn't done in months - win consecutive games. The Herd won three straight between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, but hasn't won two straight since. But Herrion said worrying about a run won't do the team any good.

"All of that's irrelevant," he said. "In order to win consecutive games, you have to win your first game. Then you can focus on game two. Whoever wins this tournament will have to win three or four games in a row. But if you don't win the first one, you won't win two."

 Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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