CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a city that has moved from Super Bowl mode back into Mardi Gras, Marshall's basketball team will try once again not to turn into ashes on a Wednesday.The Thundering Herd will try once again to win on the road.And win its second Conference USA game in a row for the first time, in any venue.And defeat a team lower in the league standings.
And not get beaten on the boards for the sixth time in seven games.And so on, and so on, and so on.In this topsy-turvy season, nothing comes easy for the Herd, and that includes this trip to the Big Easy to take on Tulane. Tipoff today at the renovated, renamed 3,600-seat Devlin Fieldhouse in New Orleans is 8 p.m. EST.Marshall (10-12, 3-4 C-USA) has won its last four meetings against the Green Wave (14-8, 2-5), including a 63-44 breather last February in Huntington. Herd coach Tom Herrion is 2-0 against the Wave.Tulane, coached by 1980s Citadel point guard Ed Conroy, is coming off a 62-50 loss at Texas-El Paso that wasn't really that close. The Miners took a 34-19 halftime lead and stretched the margin to 58-35 with 5:45 left.The Green Wave's early success, some would argue, is the product of a soft schedule loaded with home games. Indeed, nine victories have come against teams with a 250 or lower Rating Percentage Index (unofficial, ESPN.com entering Tuesday's games).But there is a win at No. 61 Alabama, and there is some talent on this roster. Most notable is 6-foot-8 forward Josh Davis, who is second in the league in scoring at 17.1 points per game and tops in rebounding at 9.9. A 13-rebound game tonight would have him averaging a double-double."He's older, a fourth-year guy who was at NC State and transferred," Herrion said. "He rebounds the ball with great tenacity. Offensively the ball's in his hands and they spread the offense out - he drives it really well, and he gets second and third shots off the glass."Ricky Tarrant, a 6-2 guard averaging 14.8 points and 2.7 assists, was C-USA's freshman of the year a season ago. Jordan Callahan, a 6-foot senior whose first career start came way back as a freshman against MU, averages 10.7 points.Marshall continues to baffle all observers, showing its best side last weekend in a 75-71 win over Central Florida. But that came in the friendly confines of Cam Henderson Center - elsewhere, Marshall is 0-7 in "true" road games and 0-10 against Division I opponents away from Huntington.The Herd has lost three of those away games in league play, but those came to the top three teams - Memphis, Southern Mississippi and UTEP. On the other hand, the Herd is a week removed from losing at home to Southern Methodist, which sits in 10th place.
But since then, the Herd shot a season-high 51.9 percent in ending UCF's four-game winning streak. Led by Nigel Spikes' nine blocks, the Herd swatted away 14 shots.The rebounding could be better, though. The Herd has been has been outrebounded in five of the last six games, with the one-point loss at Memphis being the exception. UCF enjoyed a 41-29 advantage, with a whopping 21 offensive boards.But there is a mitigating factor - nine of those were team rebounds, contested balls that went out of bounds. And don't forget, those blocked shots count as a field-goal attempt, with a rebound going to someone or "team."Connecting those dots? Consider this: UCF had 12 of its 21 offensive rebounds off those blocks.Still . . ."When you look at the stat sheet, minus-12 is a bad, bad, baaaad number," Herrion said after the game.BRIEFLY: As a reminder, UCF's ineligibility for the postseason means that the C-USA tournament has 11 teams and, therefore, five first-round byes. Marshall is a half-game out of the fourth and fifth such spots, owned by Tulsa and East Carolina. MU has defeated both, with a game left at ECU. ... The Herd will not come home, staying on the road to prepare for Saturday's game at Alabama-Birmingham. That game tips off at 3 p.m. EST. ... Next week, Marshall is home both Wednesday the 13th and Saturday the 16th, taking on co-cellar dweller Rice and co-leader Memphis.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.