Derek Redd: Marshall's young players not used to losing
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Ryan Taylor's relationship with losing basketball games never was very intimate.
"All I can remember is, in high school, probably 12 (losses)," he said after pondering for a moment. "But that's because we played almost 40 games."
Tamron Manning was even more of a stranger to losing during his high school days.
"Three?" he said when asked how many losses he faced in any one season.
Taylor, Manning and the rest of the Thundering Herd men's basketball team are gaining an unwelcome familiarity with losing this season. Marshall is in the middle of just its fourth 20-loss season in program history. Its 39 losses over the last two seasons ties for the most losses in any two-year span in Marshall's record books.
Most young college basketball players don't enjoy the Jabari Parker/Andrew Wiggins path, jumping from a storied high-school career into college hoops royalty, where success isn't measured by whether a team makes the NCAA tournament, but by how far it advances. Most must take their lumps against those teams and return to the film room, searching for solutions.
For the first- or second-year college basketball player, that difference can be jarring. He's used to the game coming to him with ease, to having that quicker first step, that leap that's a couple inches higher, that jumper that's tougher to guard.
"You've got a lot of guys here that have come from schools where they didn't lose a lot," Manning said. "And now they're here, where the losing is kind of getting repetitive and you're getting upset and frustrated."
The Herd's problem is that so many on its roster are first- or second-year players. If frustration builds among the young, it spreads through most of the lineup. And there are few veterans to calm the waters when that disappointment churns.
Yet while there may be areas to critique, Marshall coach Tom Herrion doesn't fault his players' effort to get better.
"They amaze me every day," he said after the Herd's 64-61 win Sunday over East Carolina. "Some of you guys are there a lot. They come in and their attitudes have been phenomenal."
There are no on-court blowups in those practices, no single player's attitude sabotaging the learning process. The players listen. They work. They hustle. A pair will scramble like crazy to win possession of a loose ball, tumbling to and sliding across the court. They'll pop up to smiles, high-fives and fist bumps for their effort.
That work on the practice floor, however, hasn't always translated to the game floor. Before Sunday's win over the Pirates, Marshall had lost six of seven. That included losing on a trio of late 3-pointers to Southern Mississippi, Tulane and Middle Tennessee, and larger deficits it couldn't overcome against Florida Atlantic, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Old Dominion.
"It's been tough, when we started going on a losing streak against D1 schools," said Taylor, mentioning the Herd's seven straight losses to teams outside the NAIA from the end of November to the start of January. "Right now, we're - I wouldn't say used to it - but we've overcome adversity at some points this season, and at some points we haven't. Overall, it's just a learning experience."
The ECU win offered proof those lessons were sticking. The Herd countered a huge Pirates run - something that had been Marshall's undoing in earlier games - with a run of its own. It got a late layup in traffic, another weak spot in Marshall's game, then blocked a potential game-winning 3-pointer with five seconds left.
While so many on Marshall's roster might not be used to losing at this season's pace, they don't want it to become part of their DNA. That's why, Manning said, that despite the record, he and his teammates have refused to cast this year aside as a lost cause.
"You've just got to dig down," Manning said, "and know at some point, your work on the court is going to turn into success."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.