Marshall basketball: Herd finding ways to win despite struggles shooting
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall Coach Tom Herrion knew the stories would be published before the first word was written.
"Clearly, you're going to write about it and the fans are going to know it," he said after the Thundering Herd's 61-58 victory over North Carolina-Wilmington. "We know we're not playing very well on offense right now. I admit that."
The Herd's numbers bear that out. In games against Morehead State and UNCW, the team shot 33.3 percent and 36.4 percent, respectively. The Herd has made just seven of its last 34 3-pointers.
Those stats have led to tiny margins of victory. MU won both games by three points.
But, as Herrion and the Herd (5-3) point out, they're still winning. And that's still momentum the team can take into a fierce rivalry game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against West Virginia in the Capital Classic.
"The game wasn't cute," junior guard DeAndre Kane said, "but we came out with the victory and we move on. We get ready for WVU."
In the game's opening minutes Saturday night against UNCW, it looked like Marshall's offensive woes would be sequestered to last Wednesday's game against Morehead State.
The Herd hit seven of its first eight shots against the Seahawks, including a pair of 3-pointers from D.D. Scarver. Marshall made four of its first five from beyond the arc.
Yet when Marshall emerged from a time out with 11:34 left in the first half, the temperature in the Herd's shooting hands plummeted. The team would make just one of its last 12 3-pointers. It would hit just 13 of its final 47 shots. And while the Herd would pull down 18 offensive rebounds, it would score only 14 second-chance points.
Put together, that was the formula that allowed the Seahawks (3-4) to stay close and hold leads at various points during the game.
"I've got to do a better job of getting our guys in better positions offensively," Herrion said. "But in the same breath we had some guys make some big plays."
One of those guys was Kane. The junior continues to struggle from the floor. He followed his 3-for-14 game against Nevada and his 5-for-20 effort against Morehead State with a 5-for-18 performance versus the Seahawks. But he hit two free throws with 21.1 seconds left to give Marshall a 59-58 lead and poked the ball away from UNCW guard Craig Ponder, a former Bluefield High star, with time running down. Scarver grabbed the ball and, though he was 4-for-11 from the field against the Seahawks, he hit the last two game-sealing free throws.
"Coach said all games aren't going to be pretty," Kane said. "It was an ugly game. We're still not there offensively. Everything is not together. We're not firing on all cylinders yet, but we'll get it together."
It's not that the Herd doesn't know how to score. Marshall's 78.2 points per game is the second best scoring average in Conference USA behind Houston's 81 points per game.
Yet over its past two games, Marshall is averaging almost 13 points below its season mark.
Marshall's field goal percentage (34.8) and 3-point field goal percentage (20.6) in its last two games are significantly below its season numbers (44.8 percent from the floor, 31.7 percent from 3-point range), and those season percentages are seventh-best and eighth-best in C-USA, respectively. Plus, the Herd remains the conference's worst free throw shooting team, making only 60.9 percent from the line.
The Herd now prepares for what should be a tense game with the Mountaineers (2-3), who were last seen routing Virginia Military Institute, 94-69. The team knows shooting less than 35 percent from the floor and 21 percent from 3-point range could be a recipe for disaster against WVU. Herrion said the Herd will work on finishing around the basket - making its layups and sticking its put-back shots - as it prepares for West Virginia.
As ugly as the wins came last week, Marshall still has won three in a row. That gives the Herd the knowledge that, if a basketball game turns into a wrestling match, it can emerge from that brawl with its hand raised.
"A bad win is better than a good loss," Herrion said.
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THE HERD had one return and one debut in Saturday's game.
Forward Robert Goff made his first appearance since colliding with backup center Yous Mbao in a practice before the Nevada game. Goff played 12 minutes, missed his only shot attempt and recorded one rebound and one steal.
Mbao sat on the Marshall bench in street clothes for Saturday's game. Redshirt freshman DeVince Boykins, who sat out until Saturday with a knee injury, logged the first two minutes of his Herd career.
"It's great for them to get their feet wet, especially for Boykins," Herrion said. "He hasn't played in almost two years now, since high school. I think he was more surprised that I called his number in the second half, but I wanted to get him in the game. You've got to shake the rust off.
"And Goff, kind of the same thing," he added. "He is so eager to get back in, and we've been understandably very patient with him, so it was just good to get him back. Now we have more bodies available to us."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.