Marshall basketball: Herd closes regular season with visit from Charlotte
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Two straight wins is a big deal for a men's basketball team with only 10 of them.
The Marshall men's basketball team will try to accomplish something it hasn't in more than three months — win back-to-back games — when it closes the regular season at 7 tonight versus Charlotte at the Cam Henderson Center (CBS Sports Network).
The Thundering Herd's (10-20, 4-11 Conference USA) last two-game winning streak came in beating the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on Nov. 23 and Western Kentucky on Nov. 26. Since then, Marshall has endured losing streaks of four, three, four, three and three games, but never two wins in a row.
"It would be good, having that momentum going into the conference tournament," freshman forward Ryan Taylor said, "and just the joy of winning two games. Just getting two wins on our home court for our fans would be big for us and big for them, too."
And it could provide a psychological boost heading into next week's Conference USA Tournament in El Paso, Texas. Fifteen of C-USA's 16 teams will compete – Florida International's academic progress rate was low enough to warrant a 2013-14 postseason ban – and the 10th through 15th seeds will play Tuesday. Even with a win tonight, the Herd would be locked into that group.
A win could change Marshall's first-round opponent. Heading into tonight's game, that prospective pool includes North Texas, East Carolina and Florida Atlantic. A win tonight, freshman point guard Kareem Canty said, could reinforce the notion within Marshall's roster that it can finish strong. That's something the Herd has struggled with for much of the year and something that, if it can solve, could make it a worrisome low seed.
"A lot of teams really don't want to play us in the conference tournament," Canty said. "We're playing well. We're just not finishing. They don't want to be the team we finish against."
Charlotte (15-13, 6-9 C-USA) is one of the teams Marshall did finish against this season. The Herd snapped a three-game losing streak on Feb. 15 with its 59-56 win over the 49ers at Halton Arena. Marshall rebounded from an 11-point first-half deficit to lead by as many as nine in the second half. The Herd weathered a late 49er comeback, as former South Charleston High star Pierria Henry's last-second 3-point attempt missed.
Marshall's season finale will be the one time the Herd will face a familiar opponent.
Charlotte is Marshall's travel partner on conference road trips, so the two teams play twice in the regular season. The Herd knows it will have to contend again with Henry. The junior averages 12.1 points per game and is second in C-USA in both assists (6.07 per game) and steals (2.22 per game). He scored just six points in their first meeting, but had 10 assists, nine rebounds and two blocks.
The Herd could see a change in Charlotte's strategy if they start both 6-foot-9 sophomore Willie Clayton and 6-11 redshirt sophomore Mike Thorne Jr. Thorne came off the bench to score seven points with three rebounds, while Clayton started, scored just four points, but pulled down 16 boards.
"They're back to playing the two bigs together, Thorne and Clayton," Herrion said. "They're playing really well. They both had big days against Old Dominion the other day."
Clayton and Thorne both had 14 points and nine rebounds in Charlotte's win over ODU, which snapped the 49ers' three-game losing streak. Their recent success, Herrion said, could add some responsibility to center Yous Mbao, the lone player to be honored during tonight's Senior Night program.
Marshall and Charlotte each know the broad strokes of the other's strategies, so preparation time has been spent tinkering with the intricacies. That familiarity, Taylor said, could lead to a finish that mirrors that of their last clash.
"We know what each other can do, on both sides of the court," Taylor said. "We might go zone and they probably have some special plays for our zone. We've got plays for their man (defense) and when they go zone. I think it's going to be — you really can't get any closer — but a closer game."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.