Marshall's Jamir Hanner (4) battles for a rebound during the Herd's loss at Kentucky earlier this season.
HUNTINGTON -- Jamir Hanner's critical offensive rebound and dunk at the Conference USA tournament last March hasn't faded from memory - his or his Marshall teammates.By the midpoint of the second overtime in the quarterfinal game against Tulsa, the Thundering Herd had five players foul out and was pretty much stuck with a lineup of DeAndre Kane, Dennis Tinnon, Dago Pena, Hanner and fellow freshman Chris Martin.Hanner didn't even enter the game until the 1:25 mark of the first of three extra periods. Early in the second OT, he showed why - he had two free throws that would have broken a 74-all tie and missed both.Badly.
But what followed next was one of the game's most memorable plays, and showed why coach Tom Herrion recruited him. As the ball bounced to the left of the basket, Hanner rushed to it, pulled it off the floor in a crowd of bodies, rose up and dunked it.That play didn't win the game, but every basket counted heavily in the Herd's 105-100 victory. "He has a high motor for basketball," said Tinnon, MU's rebounding machine. "He never quits on any play. That could be the play of the year."But Hanner, whom Herrion often referred to as "Bambi on ice skates," clearly had work to do in the offseason. Apparently, work hasn't been a problem with the 6-foot-8, 210-pound native of Philadelphia, and his teammates have noticed."He was really raw at first, but he continued to stay in the gym, just do extra," Tinnon said. "He always was that person who wanted to do extra, wanted to get better every day."Shooting was the most obvious item on Hanner's work agenda. He is showing a respectable midrange jumper, one which Hanner has flattened out with some extra lift.He needed a different kind of lift at the foul line, where he went 7 of 29 last season, a dreadful 24.1 percent. His improvement there is noticeable, both in form and a 65.2 percent result.And consider this: He hit all eight free throws against Ohio on Jan. 5, and then the first attempt four days later against Tulsa. That nine-shot streak from the line is the team's third-longest this season, topped only by streaks of 14 and 12 (still active) by D.D. Scarver.Combined with his team-high 57.4 percent from the field, that is allowing Herrion to trust Hanner more in critical situations. At UTEP last weekend, he played much of the final 8:51, contributing three baskets and two blocks in helping the Herd cut a 20-point deficit to nine.He played 18 minutes in the previous game against Tulsa, contributing four assists. Both were career highs."As he continues to gain a better understanding, his minutes have increased, and he's doing a good job," Herrion said. "I think he's one of our most improved players. It may not always reflect in his stat line or his minutes, but he's one of our most improved players."
One who is working toward that next March moment. "It was a great experience," he said. "We won that game, and we had a lot of fun in that game, too. It was fun playing with those guys; still fun playing with those guys."I look at it [like] we've got to get back to that point."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.