HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - You know what they say: It's always good to be back at home, semisweet home.Such is the case with the struggling Marshall basketball team, which is playing its first home game in 15 days, the third at Cam Henderson Center in a 39-day stretch. That sounds exhausting enough, but it's worse when you can't win on the road.This afternoon, the Thundering Herd plays its first home game of 2014, and the last nonconference game of the season. The opponent is Big South member Presbyterian of Clinton, S.C., and the tipoff time is 2 p.m."I take blame for that in terms of scheduling," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "It's been a long stretch. There are so many components, where you play, when you play. I don't expect anybody outside of [the coaching] world to understand - it's a challenge to say the least."
Losers of seven of its last eight games, the Herd needs a victory for its collective psyche, especially after a tough-to-swallow loss Thursday at Akron. MU fell behind by 11 points, as is its modus operandi this season, but came back and had the ball in the final seconds with a chance to win.As MU's bad luck would have it, Kareem Canty's layup just missed - "It was in and out; it was down literally," Herrion said.The last MU win over a Division I team came Nov. 26 against Western Kentucky, a full 40 days ago. Even then, the Herd had to overcome a 24-8 deficit.A few factors from way back then can apply to the Herd's current situation, including:The Herd can, and must, force turnovers. MU's 14 steals led to 23 WKU turnovers, both season highs. The Herd had just 10 steals combined in its two home losses.Getting to the foul line often doesn't hurt. Neither does making those free throws - the Herd made 30 in 39 attempts.
The Herd also made 30 free throws in its 92-65 loss two games ago at South Carolina, but did so in 47 attempts. And too many times, MU hovers at or below 50 percent, going 10 of 20 against Akron.Marshall won the WKU game despite being outmuscled on the offensive boards 17-9. That has happened several times, including a combined 38-15 against Akron and South Carolina.
"It's part of defense," Herrion said. "You've got to complete possessions by rebounding, limiting teams to one shot. And we've got to have guys rebounding on the offensive end, too."The Herd may or may not get a break in playing Presbyterian, which is 4-9 but is coming off a 74-69 home win over Appalachian State. The Blue Hose even own a road win, 87-66 over North Carolina-Greensboro on Dec. 3.Jordan Downing, a 6-foot-5 junior, leads the Blue Hose with 19.5 points per game, and tops 41 percent from 3-point range. Reggie Dilliard, a 6-4 freshman, hits nearly 50 percent from long range and scores 12.7 a game, and 6-8, 265-pound junior William Truss averages 12.7 points and 9.6 rebounds.
"Downing, he's terrific. He's a transfer from Davidson," Herrion said. "He uses screens really well and can really score the ball. We've got to give him a lot of attention. They play a lot of zone, defensively."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.