HUNTINGTON - If Marshall is still moping over its cataclysmic loss Sunday at Morehead State, that won't bode well tonight. Stephen F. Austin will give the Thundering Herd something to mope about.Under new coach Brad Underwood, the Lumberjacks are coming off an 82-72 loss at Texas as they enter Cam Henderson Center to face Marshall tonight at 7. They were tied at 60 with 3:10 left in the game before the Longhorns closed on a 12-2 run.Last year, they were even a few baskets from a glorious season, and still finished 27-5. They won the Southland Conference regular-season title, but fell 68-66 to Northwestern State in the league tournament.Given an automatic bid in the National Invitation Tournament, the Lumberjacks nearly upended Stanford as Desmond Haymon's buzzer-beating jumper didn't fall. A few weeks later, 13-year coach Danny Kaspar left for Texas State.As Marshall coach Tom Herrion sees it, SFA (2-1) isn't taking a large step back, if any at all."They've been really, really impressive on tape," Herrion said. "I think because the program has had a tradition of success under Danny Kaspar, even the guys who are stepping up now were in the system, maybe role players. A lot of their kids who are older are accustomed to winning."[Underwood] added a couple of pieces, but they have experienced guys, older guys, and they play in a unique way, both offensively and defensively."The game is part of the Roundball Classic, a loosely structured exempt event that gives teams four games, with only two counting against the schedule. The Herd (2-1) plays North Carolina-Wilmington at noon Saturday and Western Kentucky at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and then travels to East Tennessee State on Nov. 30.
Tonight, the Herd tries to rid itself of the memory of that 102-94 loss at Morehead, a game in which it lost a 21-point lead and missed two free throws that could have avoided overtime."We've got to learn from it. I've got to learn from it. I lost that game," said point guard Kareem Canty, who had nine assists but also nine turnovers. "Point guards should never let a team come back from a 20-point deficit. I've got to protect the ball, and that's all."As usual, Herrion said Canty is too hard on himself and he doesn't want the rest of the team to go the same way. The fourth-year coach sees a silver lining."We didn't get the result we wanted, but we got better from Rio [Grande, a 119-77 win] to Morehead," Herrion said. "Unfortunately, we didn't close the deal. That's our fault, no one else's fault, we didn't get the job done. That's all our mantra's been with this group, get better every day."Elijah Pittman, who improved to 10 of 11 at the foul line Sunday, is averaging 30.3 points for the Herd, with Canty averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 assists and Ryan Taylor clicking at 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. As a team, the Herd leads Conference USA in points (99.3), assists (20.3) and field-goal percentage (.521).Three seniors are in the SFA's projected starting lineup, led by Haymon (14.0 points). Deshaunt Walker is next with 13.3 point per game and has hit 8 of his 17 3-point tries. The Lumberjacks have 22 steals in three games, have forced 51 turnovers and are holding foes to .231 percent in 3-point shooting."Offensively, they run that stuff when Dana Altman was a Creighton, that 2-3 high offense. It's really unique in screening actions and stuff like that. And then defensively, they really try to deny and take you out of your offense. They're tremendously aggressive - another great challenge."
BRIEFLY: Underwood served the last two years as associate head coach under Frank Martin at South Carolina and Kansas State, the latter his alma mater. And yes, Underwood served under Martin's mentor, spending his first of his six K-State seasons as director of operations under Bob Huggins. ... Before going to K-State, Underwood was head coach at Daytona Beach Community College, a school that prepped Travis Aikens for his Marshall career. Another of Underwood's pupils played for Herrion at College of Charleston.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.