East Carolina's Maurice Kemp (2) leads Conference USA in scoring (18.3 points per game) and rebounds (8.4)
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - If all goes to schedule tonight at Cam Henderson Center, the ball will go up at exactly 7:05 p.m. to start the East Carolina-Marshall game.By 7:07, the Pirates should have hoisted their first 3-point attempt. Or second, or third.The Thundering Herd will see one of Conference USA's most free-wheeling offenses tonight, a squad with a dynamic point guard, the league's highest scorer and a bunch of shooters who aren't shy.They're averaging nearly 79 points and upwards of 24 3-point tries per game, both league highs. As Marshall coach Tom Herrion tells it, those long shots can come from anybody."They're a high-octane offensive group, tremendously explosive," he said. "Overall, they're probably the best 3-point-shooting team in the conference in terms of number of guys who can make shots."The Pirates (11-5, 2-1) have six players who have tried at least 30 from behind the arc, and they've pretty much needed them all to win their last two games - and their first 2-1 start in their 12 seasons playing C-USA basketball.A week ago, ECU fell behind Central Florida by 17 points with 111/2 minutes to go, then used four bombs to tie the game in regulation. Corvonn Gaines hit the game-winning shot in overtime, giving the Pirates an 88-85 win.Against Houston on Wednesday, the Pirates used eight 3-pointers in the last 13-plus minutes to not only erase a 10-point lead, but win going away, 89-78.And just think: By percentage, this team has room for improvement - all those shooters have combined make a league high 7.75 bombs per game, but their 32.7 percent in 3-point shooting ranks the Pirates just eighth.
"I'd thought we'd have a really good shooting team this year, but we haven't shot it like I expected," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. "We're a little bit streaky. We've had stretches where we've shot it poorly."Lebo said his top player, 6-foot-8 senior Maurice Kemp, has struggled to adjust to playing mostly small forward after playing much of last season at power forward. Kemp's numbers don't suggest that much of a struggle, though - he is averaging a league-high 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, leads the team in steals with 29, has 16 blocks and shoots 52.5 percent from the floor.The Pirates' other marquee player is point guard Miguel Paul, a fifth-year senior who started his career at Missouri. After leading the league in assists last season, his 5.71 average is second to Marshall's DeAndre Kane (7.62), and he averages 12.5 points.Paul's role is to dissect the defense and deliver the ball to one of those shooters - or take it to the rim himself."They spread the floor and rely on dribble-drive a lot," Herrion said. "Paul really creates for others off high-block ball screens, ball-screen-oriented offense which creates driving lanes and penetration and sets up shots. Big part of their offense."Since Herrion and Lebo arrived at their respective schools in 2010, the teams have split four games and have split the two contests in Huntington. After the Pirates stole an 82-81 win at the Henderson Center in 2011, Marshall won 78-67 there last year, wresting control midway through the second half and running away.
Marshall (8-9, 1-1) is trying to reverse a 74-63 loss a week ago at Texas-El Paso, but it won't have to worry about its six-game losing streak away from the Henderson Center. ECU is the team that is trying to repair its road record - loading up on home games in November and December, the Pirates have lost four straight on the road.Granted, those losses are to Charlotte, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Memphis, but Lebo still is not pleased with his team's play on foreign hardwood."For you to be where you want to be, you've got to get a couple on the road," Lebo said. "You're down 12 points at least, maybe even more than that when you start the game."BRIEFLY: Marshall owns a 12-6 lead in the all-time series. ... ECU is trying for its second winning season since 1997 - and Lebo would own both. The Pirates went 18-16 in 2010-11, then fell to 15-16 last season. ... Underquoted statistic: Marshall is shooting 49.2 percent from inside the 3-point arc, while ECU is 53.0 percent. The league leader? Memphis, 53.8 percent. ... How badly does the Herd need this game? It's just one of 16 in the conference, yes, but the next two are at Southern Mississippi and at Memphis. Marshall's next home game is Jan. 30 against Southern Methodist.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.