Tulsa coach Danny Manning
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Tulsa and Marshall last shared a basketball floor, they locked up for 55 minutes in what was much more than a Conference USA tournament quarterfinal.The result, a 105-100 triple-overtime victory for MU, had a profound ripple effect on both sides, one that sets up a strange rematch tonight at Cam Henderson Center.Tipping off at 7 p.m., the contest opens the C-USA season for the Thundering Herd (7-8), while the Golden Hurricane (9-6, 1-0 C-USA) will play its second league game.The March melee in Memphis was guessed to be a National Invitation Tournament elimination game, much like the teams played two years earlier in Tulsa, Okla. After the game, the Herd won one more tournament contest to advance to the C-USA championship game, and Tulsa was done.And on the day the Herd accepted its first NIT bid in 24 years, so was Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik. At a program that incubated the coaching careers of Nolan Richardson, Tom Izzo, Tubby Smith and Bill Self, 140 wins in seven seasons - but with no NCAA tournament bids - falls short.Then-athletic director Ross Parmley cited a 35 percent decline in season-ticket sales and a 43 percent drop in overall revenue in firing Wojcik. As the Wheeling Central graduate moved on to take over the College of Charleston program, Parmley wagered on a big name to take over the Hurricane - former Kansas superstar and Jayhawk assistant Danny Manning.Manning will carry the highest name recognition to the Henderson Center since Isiah Thomas visited in November 2010 during his ill-fated Florida International tenure. And after Sunday, Manning now owns a win over his former coach, Southern Methodist's Larry Brown.That was a coaching matchup made for the Fox Sports Net audience, but the 48-47 Tulsa win was not. The Hurricane scored eight points in the first 191/2 minutes of the second half, squandering a 17-point lead.But Scottie Haralson hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left, SMU missed a free throw and Pat Swilling Jr. put Tulsa ahead with a trey from the corner with 3.8 seconds left. As Marshall coach Tom Herrion points out, you'll see more of that tonight.
The 6-foot-4, 236-pound Haralson, the team's only scholarship senior, leads the team with 34 3-pointers, and Swilling is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc in his eight games.Tulsa isn't the post-oriented team it was under Wojcik. The Herd will enjoy a size advantage, especially if Golden Hurricane forwards Rashad Smith, Brandon Swannegan and D'Andre Wright remain out with injuries. Even then, only Wright and Kauri Black are 6-8, while other forwards are 6-7.But the turnover-prone Herd stands to have problems with freshman point guards James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison. Both can run the point, and the left-handed Woodard is the team's leading scorer among those who have played all games, averaging 13.7 points. Harrison leads with 26 steals."They're different from when Doug was there," Herrion said. "They're not as big or as physical. They're playing a little bit differently, spreading the floor, especially lately, because Haralson has had to play a lot of [power forward], and he's really a wing. They really space, run a lot of pick-and-pop stuff."Swilling's really made a difference in the last few games. He's made [11 3-pointers] in the last three games."
Marshall's March run seems like an eternity ago, as expectations have crashed with three straight embarrassing losses. In its last effort, a 94-57 drubbing at Ohio, the Bobcats scored an unheard-of 51 points off 26 MU turnovers.
The Herd's DeAndre Kane is expected to play his second game since missing four with a fractured bone in his hand, and won't get any relief from departed-by-text-message guard Kelvin Amayo. The hand's continued healing is key - for example, Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper aggressively defended on Kane's right hand, forcing him to use his left.Herrion shook up the practice schedule early this week, trying to shake the team out of its doldrums. For instance, he split Monday's practice into two sessions, having a physical workout in midday and an afternoon session emphasizing shooting and film study."We were really good yesterday, great attitude," Herrion said Tuesday. "We always talk about how it's a fresh start, that's all." BRIEFLY: Manning served on the Kansas staff for the last nine seasons, the last five as an assistant coach. He remains the Jayhawks' all-time leader in points (2,951) and rebounds (1,187). He was consensus national player of the year in 1988, when the Jayhawks won the national championship. Marshall enters its eighth season of Conference USA competition and is 56-54 in regular-season league games. The Herd has had three straight winning league seasons, going 29-19.
Swilling, a junior-college transfer who began his career at St. Joseph's, is the son of former NFL linebacker Pat Swilling, who played for the Saints, Lions and Raiders and is a college Hall of Famer out of Georgia Tech. The elder Swilling is now a real estate developer in New Orleans. After tonight, the Herd plays three of its next four games on the road, beginning with the long march to Texas-El Paso. Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.