Marshall basketball: Herrion has had to shuffle his lineup
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - For the Marshall men's basketball team, who isn't in uniform is becoming just as important as who is.
Through injury or otherwise, four of the Thundering Herd's scholarship players are on the bench in street clothes - if they're on the bench at all - including some of the team's biggest. That's forced Marshall to juggle the lineup as it heads into Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Arkansas State.
When the Herd (5-6) played Tuesday versus NAIA school Alice Lloyd College, centers J.P. Kambola (eligibility issue) and Cheikh Sane (foot injury), guard Justin Edmonds (redshirting as he recovers from ACL surgery) and forward Elijah Pittman (indefinite suspension) weren't available. Only the 7-foot-2 Yous Mbao is taller than Kambola, Sane and Pittman, all of whom stand at 6-9. Before his suspension, Pittman would be the Herd's representative at the tip-off.
That led Marshall, which snapped a four-game losing streak with its 121-57 win over the Eagles, to employ a much smaller lineup. The Herd ran out a starting lineup of 6-1 Kareem Canty and 6-4 DeVince Boykins at guard, 6-5 Ryan Taylor and 6-6 Shawn Smith at forward and 6-7 TyQuane Goard at center.
"We play faster and with more toughness," Canty said. "We can't just depend on our bigs. We all have to step up."
Many of the Herd did. Taylor, Smith, Boykins and walk-ons Austin Loop and Kevin McNair set career highs in scoring, while Canty's 14 assists tied him with Mike D'Antoni for the eighth best single-game total in Marshall history.
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion and the players say there's no time to worry about a shallow bench when the team is trying to climb out of the funk of a four-game losing streak.
Besides, Taylor said, there are plenty of members of the roster talented enough to contribute.
"Everyone on the team is interchangeable, except for a few pieces," he said. "If one goes down then another one has to step up and that's just how we see it. In practice Austin Loop might not get a lot of reps, but now it's becoming a bigger role in practice and have it roll over to the game. Everyone on the team, including me, thinks that Loop can play with anybody. When one goes down, another has to step up."
Loop surprised a few people with his 17 points - which included a 4-for-7 night behind the 3-point line - but it didn't surprise Herrion or the rest of the team. And with the depth issues Marshall faces right now - Sane's injury could keep him out longer than originally anticipated, Kambola has yet to play and Pittman's suspension remains indefinite - he might need to play extended minutes.
"He's got a chance," Herrion said. "He's in the rotation now, in the current state we're in, with eight scholarship guys, he's the ninth man. He has a skill. That's not a fluke. We see it every day."
The Red Wolves (5-4) should provide much more of a challenge than Alice Lloyd. Though Arkansas State has dropped two straight to Nebraska and Toledo, it was picked to finish third in the Sun Belt behind Western Kentucky and South Alabama. Senior guard Brandon Reed has gotten off to a slow start, averaging 8.3 points and 2.7 assists, but he was picked for the Sun Belt's preseason all-conference second team.
Senior forward Kirk Van Slyke leads the Red Wolves with 16.9 points per game, while senior guard Melvin Johnson III is close behind with 16.1 points per game. Van Slyke and senior forward Kendrick Washington are tied for the team lead with 5.8 rebounds per game.
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.