HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When it gets to be late February and March is in sight, it's tough to remember the beginning of the basketball season in November.For Marshall guard Tamron Manning, November was even longer ago. Maybe a whole person ago."I feel like a whole different person from that guy," he said Thursday. "I'm more confident, I work with a different demeanor. I feel a lot better."His role is not overwhelming, on paper. In the Thundering Herd's 82-70 win over Central Florida on Wednesday, Manning played 12 minutes, hitting a 3-pointer and a free throw for four points, with two assists and a turnover.
The 3-pointer wasn't insignificant, though. It gave Marshall a 71-49 lead with 9:17 left, more than enough to weather an almost-inevitable UCF run.Just two weeks ago, it wasn't certain if the freshman from Georgetown, Ky., was worthy to see the floor, much less hit a big 3-pointer. After Marshall's Feb. 6 loss to Tulane, he was 2 of 17 from the field and 1 of 9 from 3-point range, scoring 10 points the entire season.His fortunes have turned. He played 21 minutes in the Herd's 75-61 loss at Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 9, largely because nobody else was effective. In his quick stint in the 71-59 home loss to Memphis, he scored in impressive basket on a drive."I was surprised. I was thinking I could have been doing that all night if it was that easy," Manning said. "Joe Jackson and Geron [Johnson] were pressuring me the whole night. I had to beat the pressure, make them respect me one time. The pressure kind of backed off."Chalk that up to confidence, which is what brings freshmen to the forefront at this time of year."I've got great confidence in him now, much more than I did earlier in the season," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "He's deserving of some increased playing time. We were able to get [DeAndre Kane] breaks last night. Gets 'Dre' off the ball."nn
Manning was able to return from his first collegiate road trip victorious on Thursday morning. When the team reassembled for practice that afternoon, he looked as if he was ready to play another game."The trip back wasn't as bad, either," he said. "It was a lot shorter. I felt good, I felt rested."Marshall's victory over 17-win UCF seemingly came out of nowhere, considering Marshall's 12-game drought in "true" road games dating to last season. The way the Herd shot a season-high 54.2 percent and mugged the Knights on the boards, it seemed to feel at home in Orlando."I think there was relief," Herrion said. "These kids have been banging the drum. It took us a long time, too long, as I told the kids. I give them a lot of credit - they haven't wilted, they haven't buckled, and they reaped the benefits [Wednesday] night. I'm thrilled."Now we've got to build on it. That game is not going to define our season; we've got so much left ahead of us."
Such as Saturday night's home game against Alabama-Birmingham. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Cam Henderson Center and it can't come late enough for Herrion, who made the mistake of watching the video of UAB loss while still in Orlando. He said he couldn't sleep Wednesday night."We were so bad. I can't believe how bad we were," he said. "We can play worse than we did against UAB, but we can't play much worse."nn
Herrion said his decision to start Robert Goff over Dennis Tinnon was nothing more than a good ol' coach's decision.As it turns out, Tinnon played 29 minutes to Goff's 22, with big man Nigel Spikes limited to 25 by foul trouble. Goff and Spikes combined for eight points and nine rebounds.Herrion remains confident with Goff."He's not in a position where his numbers are going to jump at you," Herrion said. "He plays with that high energy, really active, he's a difference-maker. He got his hands on a lot of balls early in the game, causes some problems defensively, he's a little better interior defender."
Tinnon didn't exactly come out on the short end, scoring 14 points and yanking down 15 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.