HUNTINGTON - When you suddenly find you can't take a possession for granted - or advancing past halfcourt, for that matter - there are no victories you can take for granted, either. Certainly not with Savannah State, which went 12-18 with two losses to Marshall two seasons ago. The Tigers won the regular-season championship of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last year, and currently sits in the top half of unofficial Rating Percentage Index lists (136 on CBS Sports). They are 5-6 with a few decent wins on its ledger, including a 61-52 win over RPI No. 104 Robert Morris. Two losses may be more impressive: 58-55 to Middle Tennessee and 53-50 to Central Florida. December hasn't been so kind to the Tigers, with losses to Norfolk State (55-45), at Ohio State (85-45) and Marquette (71-51). Still, the Thundering Herd can't sleep on the Tigers when they enter Cam Henderson Center today for a 7 p.m. tip. Just like the Herd couldn't sleep on Coppin State a week ago. It did and trailed much of the game against the Eagles, an MEAC team that's now 2-9. "They're off to a very good start; they're playing an extremely challenging schedule," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "They're older. We played them twice two years ago; they were a better team last season. Clearly, they're battle-tested so far this season." The Herd (6-5) is trying to regroup from its 72-56 loss to then-No. 11 Cincinnati, one in which it committed a season-high 20 turnovers against nine assists. Turnovers have exceeded assists in four of the Herd's last five games, dropping what was an excellent ratio closer to 1.0. Personnel-wise, reinforcements are at least a game away. DeAndre Kane's injury status has not changed (hand injury, out indefinitely) and combo guard Kelvin Amayo cannot join the team until Thursday. The Cincinnati game was tough for point guards Chris Martin and Tamron Manning, who played a career-high 30 minutes. "This game will help us get better, there's no doubt about it," Herrion said afterward. "We're not going to see a team that's as aggressive, defensively. Some teams will play that way because they suspect we're going to be susceptible to pressure." The Tigers have their own problems on offense, with 103 assists against 195 turnovers, the latter number an average of nearly 18 per game. They are shooting an even 40 percent from the field, not good but higher than 38.7 percent for their opponents. They shoot just 25.2 percent from the floor and 62 percent from the foul line, neither great marks. In their last three games, the Tigers have committed 60 turnovers. Seniors lead the Tigers - 6-foot-7 forward Rashad Hassan (12.9 points per game), 6-0 Preston Blackman (10.1 points per game, 16 3-pointers) and 6-7 Arnold Louis (6.6 points, 6.6 rebounds). Jyles Smith, the team's tallest player at 6-8, averages 5.5 rebounds and has blocked 33 shots. In addition to holding onto the ball, the Herd has to try to correct other season-long bugaboos such as missing close-in shots and free throws. And the Herd does not want to repeat the start of the Coppin State game, in which it fell behind 19-7. "We've got to do that [take leads] early more often in games, start getting the crowd into it more, get ourselves into it more," said Elijah Pittman, who how has three 20-point games. "We can't wait until the middle or the end, to where we're playing catch-up all the time."
BRIEFLY: This will be the 450th game in the Henderson Center, which is in its 32nd season. Marshall is 303-146, 20-3 against nonconference opponents under Herrion.
Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax and Bill Martin, father of MU's Chris Martin, played together on Georgetown's 1984 national championship team.
Marshall leads Conference USA in blocked shots with 4.8 per game, a full block more than the Herd averaged last season.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.