Marshall basketball: Smith provides spark off the bench
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Just nine games into his Marshall men's basketball career, junior forward Shawn Smith has a clear understanding of his job on the Thundering Herd roster.
"Energy," Smith said. "You can tell I'm the most hyper one on the team."
With the week the Herd just had - and with what's coming this Saturday - the team is looking for a jolt. Marshall (4-5) finishes a four-game stretch away from the Cam Henderson Center with the annual Capital Classic versus West Virginia University at 7:30 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center. And the Herd will face the Mountaineers looking for its first win in those four games.
Smith, a Sacramento, Calif., native, came to Marshall as a top-100 junior college prospect out of the City College of San Francisco. He averaged 10.9 points and 4.7 rebounds in helping that team to a 31-1 record as a sophomore, then found himself in a new role with the Herd. Smith had to get used to life off the bench.
"I like it now," Smith said. "It's an adjustment for me. Coming from where I come from, I started on every team. It's an adjustment, but I don't worry about it. I just want to win games. Whatever I've got to do to win games, I'm with it."
His role as the spark off the bench has led to expanded duties and better production. The junior has scored in double digits in each of the last three games - 11 points versus East Tennessee State, 15 points versus Vanderbilt and 10 points Saturday at Penn State. Sophomore guard Tamron Manning said it doesn't always have to be scoring that Smith provides, but that he's developed a knack for bringing something to the table.
"At the first media time out or something like that, you need somebody like him to get a dunk or a big rebound or a big steal," Manning said, "something like that just to energize us even more. I think what he does is good for us."
The Herd is running a little lower on energy these days, especially after Saturday's 90-77 loss to the Nittany Lions, its third straight. Marshall trailed by as many as 27 in the game before Smith's free throws with 10:26 left in the game started to cut into that Penn State lead. He scored all of his points in the second half and tacked on five rebounds, two assists and three steals.
Saturday brings Smith his first taste of the Herd's rivalry with the Mountaineers, and his size combined with his athleticism could come in handy against WVU. At 6-foot-6 and 228 pounds, he has a linebacker's build, but a wide receiver background. On top of a being an all-conference first team basketball player at McClatchy High School in Sacramento, he also was an all-conference receiver.
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said Smith's bulk belies his athletic abilities.
"He kind of looks that way," he said. "But he's an explosive athlete. He's a rim attacker. That's where he's at his best. He's improved and has continued to improve his perimeter shot."
Smith said his football background has helped him as a basketball player, especially when it comes to getting to the rim.
"It's observing contact," he said. "Going up, getting hit, taking it and still finishing."
Smith hopes he can help alleviate Marshall's recent struggles. He may have to wait a little while each game before he gets his chance, but he values the opportunity to provide a boost whenever that shot comes along.
"I appreciate it a lot," he said. "It makes me happy to come off the bench and help the team out if, maybe, we're down. I can provide a couple of sparks and let the team feed off of that."
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.