Capital Classic: Road trips have not been kind to Marshall
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall men's basketball team treads on inhospitable hardwood Saturday when it faces West Virginia in the Capital Classic. The Herd has dropped six of the last seven games to the Mountaineers in the Charleston Civic Center.
Since last season, the Herd has suffered that same tough luck nearly everywhere other than the confines of Huntington's Cam Henderson Center. Marshall (4-5) will seek its first road or neutral-site win of the season - and just its second such win in its last 19 tries - starting at 7:30 p.m.
The Herd was just fine on the road in the 2011-12 season. It won four of its last six, including three straight to reach the Conference USA tournament title game. Yet that couldn't carry over into 2012-13.
After beating the District of Columbia in Hempstead, N.Y., in its third game of the season, Marshall would win just one more game on a road or neutral court, beating the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Feb. 20, but losing the other 13. It started out this season 0-4 away from the Henderson Center to drop its away record to 1-17 in its last 18.
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The players don't feel this season's problems have much to do with last season's. Marshall has retooled most of its roster, saying goodbye to seven of 2012-13's top eight scorers in the offseason. And the one who did return, leading scorer Elijah Pittman, was suspended indefinitely Monday.
"I think right now it's just mental," sophomore guard Tamron Manning said. "The problems this year are different from last year. Right now it's just mental and just the fact that the teams we've played on the road haven't been easy teams to beat. With (Vanderbilt) and Penn State, those are two pretty good teams. It's not that we're struggling. We just have to find a way to win on the road. I think Saturday will be a good test."
The Herd's last two road losses were 69-67 at Vanderbilt and 90-77 while visiting the Nittany Lions.
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion feels that, if the Herd would have capitalized on early chances to win on the road this year, it might not be facing the same woes it is now. Marshall had a chance at a road win in its first attempt this year, at Morehead State. But the Herd's missed free throws down the stretch allowed the Eagles to send it into overtime and ultimately win, 102-94.
"You need some success to beget some more success," Herrion said. "It would have been nice to have closed out the Morehead game so we got a taste of victory early, but we didn't. You just have to do things better and put yourself in a better position. We've got to do that from the beginning and we haven't done that consistently enough lately."
Whether the venues are packed and hostile or empty and quiet, sophomore guard DeVince Boykins said the team simply has to do a better job in unfamiliar territory. It's not a breakthrough offensive set or defensive formation that will secure that win, he added, but subtle things like boxing out or fighting a little harder for a rebound.
"We all just realize that, all the little things we do, we have to do a lot better on the road," he said. "That's the only way we're going to win. It's going to be a lot harder with the crowds and us not being familiar with the gym and the rims. We know we have to take our opportunities more seriously. We know we have to do the little things a lot better."
He does say, though, that if Marshall plays the defense it's capable of, that could put it in good position against West Virginia (6-4). Herrion and the players have talked a lot this season about how forcing turnovers allows the Herd to use its athleticism in transition. That won't be too easy, considering Mountaineers point guard Juwan Staten has a nearly 5-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. He's turned the ball over just 14 times in 10 games.
"If we defend, everything else will just take care of itself," Boykins said. "Whether we're making shots or not, if we're playing defense, we can get easy baskets.
"The coaches say that as long as we play defense, rebound and get out in transition," he added, "we can play with any team in the country."
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.