CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After finally beating a Conference USA rival and shedding that nasty road-game losing streak, Marshall faces a different challenge tonight in Ruston, La.For starters, the Thundering Herd faces an explosive team that loves to play pressure defense and jack up the tempo. And, by the way, Louisiana Tech is a whole bunch better than Rice, the team Marshall conquered Thursday night.The Herd (7-13, 1-4 Conference USA) will take on the Bulldogs at 8 tonight at the 8,000-seat Thomas Assembly Center. The Bulldogs' average attendance is 3,624, but this game is being promoted as an "Operation Sellout." Whatever the size of the audience, the Bulldogs (16-4, 4-1) are tied with Southern Mississippi for the Conference USA lead. They lost to the Golden Eagles 80-71 last Sunday in Hattiesburg, Miss., but have otherwise been flawless in league play.Additionally, the Bulldogs own a 102-98 overtime win at Oklahoma."We're not facing a team with the polar opposite style," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "They play really fast, create a lot of chaos with pressure defense. Really an explosive team, pretty balanced. They can score at a lot of positions."One player the Herd won't deal with is Raheem Appleby, who may be out until the end of February or later with a severely sprained ankle. He remains the Bulldogs' leading scorer with 16.1 points per game.
Six-foot-3 junior Kenneth Smith runs the show, and he leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.0, 145 to 45). Six-4 sophomore guard Alex Hamilton averages 15.4 points and 3.3 rebounds and leads the team in getting to the foul line, where he is 101 for 139 (72.7 percent). Chris Anderson, a 6-6 senior forward, averages 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds.While the Bulldogs bulldogged Charlotte 80-60 Thursday night, Marshall snapped its 12-game losing streak away from home with a 73-63 win at Rice. The Herd scored the game's first eight points, repelled a rally early in the second half and made free throws down the stretch to win comfortably.Kareem Canty had 18 points and eight assists, while Ryan Taylor had 18 points and eight rebounds. Taylor stayed out of foul trouble and was able to play 33 minutes.The Herd withstood the 22 points and 17 rebounds by 6-9, 265-pound Sean Obi, but the rest of the Owls were 14 of 46 from the floor, 5 of 25 from 3-point range."Pick your poison; Obi had a big night inside," Herrion said. "We though guarding the 3s was more important, and we did a great job."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.