Marshall basketball: Bittersweet ending to a frustrating season’ for Herd
TULSA, Okla. -- The pain still fresh following his team's last-second 66-64 loss to Tulane in the Conference USA tournament's first round, Marshall Coach Tom Herrion wanted to talk little about the season as a whole.
The few words he did say to encapsulate the year showed how tough it was for the entire Thundering Herd.
"It was a bittersweet ending to a frustrating season, to say the least," he said.
Many had predicted the Herd, with the vast majority of last season's NIT roster returning, would contend for the C-USA title and perhaps return to the NCAA tournament after a 25-year absence. Yet from before the first regular-season game, the Herd found many surprises - few of them pleasant - that played major factors in its 13-19 campaign.
The first surprise came when freshman Kareem Canty, a Harlem, N.Y., point guard who likely would have been Marshall's starter, was held out of Marshall's Nov. 1 exhibition game with Bluefield College due to initial eligibility concerns. The NCAA would declare Canty ineligible for the 2012-13 season two weeks later.
Marshall juggled the lineup to compensate, moving shooting guard DeAndre Kane to the point, putting D.D. Scarver in the starting lineup and increasing the responsibilities of a trio of young guards - sophomore Chris Martin and freshmen Tamron Manning and DeVince Boykins.
"It threw us for a loop a little bit," Manning said of losing Canty. "When that happened and Coach told Kane he had to run the '1,' it shifted a lot of things. Kane had to learn something new."
Kane showed quickly he had a knack for running the point. He ranked as high as third in Division I in assists per game, averaging as many as 8.5. Then came the second unwelcome surprise. Days after beating Coppin State, Marshall announced that Kane would be out indefinitely with what turned out to be a broken right hand. That absence lasted four games and the Herd went 1-3 in that span.
The team thought Kelvin Amayo, an academic non-qualifier who became eligible in the spring semester, would bolster Marshall's backcourt depth, but his Herd career lasted three games and a total of 28 minutes. He left the team in January and ultimately transferred to Iona.
Throughout the season, inconsistency plagued the Herd. Marshall won just two games away from Huntington all season. The team swept the season series with Central Florida, but lost by 28 points at Kentucky and 37 points at Ohio. Marshall lost by 56 at Southern Mississippi, then beat the Golden Eagles on Senior Night at the Henderson Center. It beat East Carolina at home by 21 and lost to the Pirates in Greenville, N.C. by nine.
Marshall also struggled defensively. The Herd was last in C-USA in scoring defense (72.9 points allowed per game) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (37.1 percent allowed) and ninth in the 12-team conference in total field goal percentage defense (44.2 percent allowed). Both inconsistency and defensive issues reared their heads in Wednesday's loss to Tulane.
The Herd led by as many as 13 in the second half and had held the Green Wave to 1-of-14 shooting from 3-point range. But Tulane then hit five 3s in a row and seven of its last nine, the last one a bank-shot heave by Ricky Tarrant that won the game.
"I think we were surprised at times by how deep they were shooting it especially down the stretch," Herrion said. "We had our hands down and we weren't playing aggressive enough contesting the shot. We were surprised by them shooting it, and how deep it was on a couple possessions."
Now Herrion and the Herd look toward next season, and they have some questions to answer. Foremost, will Kane return to the lineup? The junior graduates this May and will have one year of eligibility left. He could transfer and be immediately eligible to play anywhere, or he could jump to the pros. Kane said after Wednesday's game that he'll talk with coaches and family and make the best decision for him.
Kane finished the season ninth in Division I with 7.0 assists per game and was second on the team scoring with 15.1 points per game, earning a spot on the all-C-USA second team for the second straight year.
The Herd also has some big holes to fill in the low post. Three seniors - 6-foot-8 Dennis Tinnon, 6-9 Robert Goff and 6-10 Nigel Spikes - graduate from this roster. Tinnon averaged 10.5 points and 9.1 rebounds this season, Spikes finished his career ranked sixth all-time in blocked shots and Goff scored a stunning 27 points at ECU. Marshall has some post players left on the roster in sophomores Jamir Hanner and J.P. Kambola and junior Yous Mbao, but Hanner played the most of the three with 9.2 minutes per game.
The Herd's lineup might get smaller, but talent remains. If Kane decides to stay, he can pair with Canty in the backcourt and return to his natural shooting guard spot. Leading scorer Elijah Pittman (16.1 points per game) and Scarver each have a year left. Plus non-qualifier Ryan Taylor - a 6-foot-5 forward from Louisville, Ky., and rated three stars by Rivals, who some feel will make an immediate impact - will be available next season. The Herd also picked up 6-foot-6 City College of San Francisco forward Shawn Smith in the early signing period and has a verbal commitment from 6-foot-3 shooting guard Justin Edmonds of Toledo, Ohio.
TyQuane Goard, a former George Washington star who sat out last season after transferring from Ohio also becomes eligible.
Marshall's struggles this season, despite the talent and experience on the roster, created most of the disappointment from those outside the program. Manning feels that even with the changes to the roster, next year's team should have the talent to start climbing back up the C-USA standings.
"I think we've just got to stay confident in ourselves," Manning said. "I think we'll be fine. We'll be where people expect us to be. We'll have more leadership and different things in place. We know what we've got to do."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.