CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall's basketball players will do well to put the catastrophic loss at Southern Mississippi behind them, for the Memphis Tigers won't show a shred of sympathy.The Thundering Herd wraps up its two-game road trip against the top tier of Conference USA, entering FedExForum for a 2 p.m. bout at Memphis today. This time, Fox Sports Net (Root Sports Pittsburgh on local cable systems) will televise the game, presumably without the technical difficulties that hampered Comcast on Wednesday.The Herd wants to leave behind all the difficulties, technical and otherwise, that brought on its historic 102-46 rout in Hattiesburg, Miss."We turned the page and that's what we had to do," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "That was the most horrific loss we've been in and we can't take it back. The lack of competitiveness was the most disturbing aspect."Today's game will bring its share of headaches. For one thing, Marshall (9-10, 2-2) is 0-for-Memphis all-time against the Tigers, and 0-9 this season against all Division I foes away from Huntington. C-USA co-leader Memphis (15-3 overall, 4-0 in the conference), which has lost to Virginia Commonwealth and Minnesota in the Bahamas and to Louisville at home, enters with a nine-game winning streak.The Herd lost just 83-76 in a well-contested game last January in Memphis, but fell 83-57 to the Tigers in the C-USA tournament finals on the same floor.Memphis also won in Huntington last season, 87-67, shooting 59.6 percent along the way - but that wasn't much more than the 55.6 percent and 59.1 percent in the games on the Tigers' floor.
Since then, the Tigers have crossed the line from a young squad to a veteran unit. Three well-known players - Joe Jackson, Antonio Barton and Tarik Black - are juniors. They were freshmen when Marshall recorded its only win over the Tigers in C-USA play two years ago in Huntington.And here's a sign the Tigers might be better: Barton, Crawford and Black are coming off the bench these days.One reason, particularly in the case of Black, is the emergence of 6-foot-9, 246-pound freshman Shaq Goodwin. Combined with the 6-9, 262-pound Black, they form a two-big-bodied monster that averages 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds.
"Shaq Goodwin, he's a terrific young player," Herrion said. "He's a back-to-the-basket scorer, a terrific physical presence, a great rebounder. He has to be in the conversation for freshman of the year in the conference, no doubt about that."Jackson is a solid candidate for C-USA player of the year. He's 13th in the league in scoring (13.8), second in 3-point percentage (.488), fifth in field-goal percentage (.544), fifth in steals (34 , fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.54) and sixth in assists (4.44).And Jackson isn't the only Tiger stealing the ball. The team averages 10 thefts per game, second only to the Marshall-enhanced 12.4 by Southern Miss. Junior-college transfer Geron Johnson is second in the league by average, 1.93 (29 in 15 games).That will test the Herd's presumed re-emphasis on ball control, needed after the 31 miscues at Southern Miss. It's enough to keep Herrion up all night.Check that. Herrion doesn't sleep a lot anyway. But he would like to put that nightmare of Wednesday night in Hattiesburg behind him.
"I haven't slept in a while," Herrion said. "That's part of it, we've got to grind through things. We've still got three-quarter of the conference season left. It's one really, really bad loss, we've got to move forward."nn
Back in Huntington, MU's Big Green Scholarship Foundation is offering new members a chance at two free courtside tickets to the Feb. 2 game against Central Florida. The Big Green was 26 members away from hitting the 3,000 mark for the third straight year.Current Big Green members will receive two ticket priority points for each new member referral, with no limit. The promotion ends Thursday, and you can call 304-696-3385 or 304-696-4661 for more information.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.