HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As the Marshall men's basketball team's senior top scorer has struggled through his last two games, two first-year players have emerged to make up for the shortfall.
Sometimes, like in last Tuesday's comeback win over Western Kentucky, freshman point guard Kareem Canty and sophomore shooting guard Chris Thomas have boosted the Thundering Herd to a victory. Other times, like in Saturday's 88-78 loss at East Tennessee State, the Herd (4-3) still comes up short.
Either way, Thomas and Canty have become solid options alongside senior forward Elijah Pittman.
The duo didn't have a choice versus WKU. Pittman was ejected less than 5 minutes into that game after being tagged with a "flagrant 2" foul for elbowing a Hilltopper in the neck. With Pittman - and the 29.4 points per game he averaged entering that contest - gone, Thomas and Canty went to work in their own ways.
Canty calmed down the rest of the team, getting it focused for a possible comeback. Some of that time was spent in Thomas' ear.
"I tell him all the time to do what you do," Canty said. "In scouting reports, a lot of people like to take me and Elijah out of the game. And he was a big-time scorer in high school. I always tell him, 'I need you. Just do what you do, and I've got you.'"
Thomas responded with his best game of his short Herd career, scoring 27 points on 7-of-12 shooting, making 12 of 13 free throws and driving to the basket almost at will. Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said Thomas' athleticism on the break makes him tough to guard.
"He's got great explosive quickness," Herrion said. "It doesn't take much for him to find a seam or a crack. And when he does, he's kind of slithery and he slices and dices. And one of his best qualities is he's a great finisher. He creates shots and finish shots around people and over people. He can use the backboard really well and that's a lost art, to be honest with you."
Herrion also appreciated Canty's ability to marshal the Herd's troops and rebound from a 16-point deficit.