HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The lull in the Marshall men's basketball team's schedule - six days to prepare for a one-game weekend slate - comes at a pretty opportune point for the Thundering Herd. It allows the team plenty of time to bounce back not just from the fact it lost both games last weekend, but how it lost them as well.
Valiant efforts both last Friday versus Southern Mississippi and Sunday against Tulane were thwarted by last-second 3-point shots. The Herd spent this past week getting over that double-barreled heartbreaker and getting ready for Saturday's 7 p.m. game at Charlotte.
Freshman forward Ryan Taylor said the Herd (8-17, 2-8 Conference USA) needed to extract the good in those games from the bad and use it to move forward.
"We just have to bring the same intensity from the past two games into the next game," he said. "We have to bring that intensity to practice and carry it over into the game."
Both of last weekend's losses came with tough-to-swallow finishes. A season after losing by 56 in Hattiesburg, Miss., the Herd led almost the entire game on the Golden Eagles' home court, until USM guard Neil Watson's deep 3-pointer with three seconds left put Southern Miss ahead to stay.
At Tulane, Marshall fell into an early double-digit hole and trailed by 15 with 11:26 left before tying the game with 28 seconds to go. But with about two seconds left, Jay Hook's deep 3-pointer dashed the Herd's hopes.
Now the Herd prepares for a Charlotte (14-9, 5-5 C-USA) team that features a name familiar to prep basketball fans in the Kanawha Valley. Pierria Henry, the 2011 Class AAA state player of the year runner-up at South Charleston High School, is the 49ers' starting point guard. The 6-foot-4 junior is third in C-USA with 6.05 assists per game, second in steals with 2.41 per game and also averages 12.2 points.
"He's arguably one of the best point guards in the conference," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. "He runs the show and gives them great size at the point."
He's not the only player Marshall must contend with. Forward Willie Clayton, a 6-9 sophomore, averages 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds, the fourth-best average in the conference. Leading scorer Shawn Lester, a 6-4 sophomore guard, has started just one game, but averages 13.1 points and 4.7 rebounds. Meanwhile, starting guard Ben Cherry, a Tulane transfer, is 40 of 80 from the 3-point line this season. Cherry is no stranger to the Herd. His 2-of-3 night from the arc last season helped Tulane knock off Marshall in the first round of the C-USA tournament.
"They're really talented offensively," he said. "They've got four guys averaging double figures. There's really good balance. They can play in and shoot it well from 3."
With six games left in the regular season, finishing at .500 or above is out of the question. Right now, the Herd is playing to avoid its first 20-loss season since Marshall finished 6-22 in 2004-05, Ron Jirsa's second as Marshall's head coach. Since what can be argued was its signature win this season versus Western Kentucky, Marshall is 4-15. Herrion said the mission was to get the team thinking positively, despite two crushing losses for a roster filled with freshman and sophomores unaccustomed to losing at this rate.
"That's the challenge," Herrion said, "managing fragile psyches. Plus, we've got a young team that's even more fragile."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.