HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There's been plenty of introspection that's gone with watching South Carolina game film for the Marshall men's basketball team. The Thundering Herd, visiting the Gamecocks tonight at 7 p.m. in Columbia, S.C., used their nine days in between games not just to scout tonight's opponent, but to figure out how to improve from a situation where it's lost five of its last six games.
"I watched a lot of our games from the first part of the season, a lot of them," Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said, "just trying to have a sense of where you've got to get better and what areas you've got to get better in."
Herrion's seen the Herd (5-7) improve in a couple of areas. He considers the team better rebounders (it outrebounded both Alice Lloyd and Arkansas State) and better free-throw shooters (Marshall made 36 of 48 - 75 percent - over its last two games). But he's also looking for better consistency on defense.
Point guard Kareem Canty said the team also needs its scoring spurts to come a lot earlier. The Herd had a couple in its loss to Arkansas State, but they came after Marshall fell behind by double digits. The Herd never led in that game and only tied the score twice in 40 minutes, ultimately falling, 83-82. Marshall hasn't defeated a Division I opponent since its Nov. 26 comeback win over Western Kentucky.
"We're looking to come out strong now, instead of always playing from behind," Canty said. "There's no more 'my faults.' Everybody's bringing it on every play in practice now. We've had some great practices since we came back from break."
The holidays allowed the Herd to get more used to its smaller lineup and shallower bench. Herrion said center Cheikh Sane (foot) remains questionable and a game-time decision after working out a little Saturday and Sunday. Guard Tamron Manning (groin) is doubtful, while forward Elijah Pittman's indefinite suspension hasn't changed.
"We're a work in progress; we've just got to be able to put all the components together on a consistent basis," Herrion said. "With a young team, sometimes that's challenging."
The Gamecocks' 5-6 record may be average, but South Carolina has played a tough non-conference schedule. Three of their losses have come to Oklahoma State, Baylor and Boise State. Yet the Gamecocks have won their last two, a unique two-game sweep of Akron. USC beat the Zips 69-59 at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii, then beat them again, 78-45, in Columbia.
"They're playing their best basketball of the year," Herrion said. "They're really big. They've got great size and they're as physical of a team as we'll play all year. They want to take the game to you from a physical standpoint."
South Carolina may only score 68.5 points per game (269th in Division I), but it gives up just 67.9 per game (120th in Division I). Freshman Sindarius Thornwell, a 6-foot-5 guard who Rivals.com considered the 11th best shooting guard prospect in the country out of Oak Hill Academy, leads the Gamecocks in scoring with 11.7 points per game. Junior guard Tyrone Johnson is the only other Gamecock in double digits with 10.6 points per game.
Tonight's Southeastern Conference foe is the second this season for the Herd and the fourth major-conference opponent on its non-conference schedule. That's not the easiest place to start reversing a team's fortunes against Division I foes, but Herrion and the Herd are ready to send its young roster onto the floor.
"You don't hit the panic button," Herrion said. "You just reset. Coming out of the break, now we have a big challenge."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.