HUNTINGTON - Often, the message coming from the Marshall basketball camp the past few seasons has been this: Scoring comes pretty easy to these guys, but the defense needs work.But as the 61-58 win over North Carolina-Wilmington last weekend clearly showed, the Thundering Herd is sputtering on offense. Marshall (5-3) shot 36.4 percent for the game, 30.8 percent in a second half in which it was able to rally from a five-point deficit, believe it or not."We know we're not playing very well on offense right now. I admit that," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "I've got to do a better job getting our guys in better positions offensively."It won't get any easier for the Herd on Wednesday, as it battles West Virginia in the annual Capital Classic. Forget that the Mountaineers can reflect the tough-guy persona of their coach, Bob Huggins - this game often breeds lots emotion, lots of contact, lots of fouls and ...Sometimes, not a lot of points.Granted, all recent games have been higher scoring than the Herd's two upsets in the Ron Jirsa era (59-55 in 2005, 58-52 in 2006), but these games have been grinders nonetheless.Marshall has topped 40 percent shooting in five of the last six classics, but not always by much. Last January, the Herd shot 45 percent for the game, but was outgunned 61.5 percent to 40 percent in the second half as the Mountaineers rolled to a 78-62 victory.In Herrion's first Capital Classic in 2011, the Herd shot an even 40 percent from the floor still took a 24-point lead en route to a 75-71 win. That game was noteworthy for its 64 fouls, with both teams taking 35 free throws.Coincidentally, the Herd has averaged that many foul shots in its last two games, which also include a 70-67 win over Morehead State. Forty-four have gone in for a good-for-MU 62.9 percent mark, but the Herd is slightly on the wrong side of 35 percent from the floor in those 80 minutes.DeAndre Kane's slump is the most visible factor, as he has been 13 of 52 over the last three games. He is 1 of 13 from 3-point range in that stretch, but the number of shots he has missed around the rim has been more shocking - 12 in the last two games, including a dunk.Shooter D.D. Scarver is 6 for 21 over the last two games, and Dennis Tinnon was 3 of 12 against UNCW. Elijah Pittman was 2 of 9 against Morehead State but was a lot better against UNCW, 4 of 5.Then again, the fact that Pittman only had five shots and five free-throw attempts in 34 minutes seems a bit odd. If you guess that signals a lack of ball movement, Herrion might agree."We're just so stagnant on offense, we can't finish anything," he said. "We've got to address that. We've got to be able to score around the basket, stickbacks, layups, power layups."Herrion pointed out that UNCW "shrunk the game," limiting the number of possessions by going deep in the shot clock while on offense. Consistently taking the shot clock below the 10-second mark not only kept the Herd out of its offense, it made players exert more energy to get stops on defense.Which made offense even more difficult. Come Wednesday, MU may have to cope with much the same situation against a bigger, stronger, faster Mountaineer defense. Herrion's crew has a few days to fix more than a few problems, offensively."Nothing is coming easy for this group," Herrion said.
nnSeats are still available for Marshall's game-day luncheon, noon Wednesday at Brickstreet Insurance, 300 Quarrier St.Herrion and athletic director Mike Hamrick are the guest speakers. Cost is $20, or #300 for a VIP table of eight.Supporters can call Teddy Kluemper at 304-696-3401 or e-mail him at email@example.com.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.