HUNTINGTON - Per the new Conference USA scheduling format, Marshall is back at Cam Henderson Center home for two games this week. For the Thundering Herd to stop its plunge, that home has to become sweet again. Today, the obstacle is Florida International and the tip time is 7 p.m. Marshall's home record remains above water, 6-4. But when you remove the two games against non-Division I opponents, the mark is 4-4. The Thundering Herd has two sub-.500 seasons in the 33-year history of the Henderson Center, 1991-92 (4-9) and 2004-05 (4-8). Both were shaky, 20-loss teams. The homestand two weeks ago offered no help and, to some MU followers, little hope. First, the Herd was swamped early against North Texas; second, it fell face-first down the stretch against Tulsa. MU's last game, the 98-77 loss at Louisiana Tech, was about as forgettable. Tonight, the Herd (7-14, 1-5) will try to do something about its situation against the Panthers (11-9, 3-2). "Everybody's excited for these two home games," said MU forward Ryan Taylor, reigning C-USA freshman of the week. "Two winnable home games where we've just got to come out and play to the best of our ability all 40 minutes." The Panthers are enjoying a somewhat good start to their Conference USA basketball existence. They have defeated Rice, East Carolina and Florida Atlantic, but their two league losses are ugly - 85-51 at Louisiana Tech and 52-36 against Old Dominion. FIU is led by Tymell Murphy, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior who averages 16.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. A first-team all-Sun Belt selection last season, he is shooting 61 percent from the floor. "He's really strong, left-handed," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "Scores in transition, he'll post, really drives it, makes enough [outside] shots to keep you somewhat honest. High-motor kid, rebounds it really well." Averaging 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds is a name some Herd fans might remember - Rakeem Buckles. Think Louisville, to whom Marshall lost 80-66 on Nov. 27, 2010. Then a sophomore, Buckles started and scored 12 points with seven rebounds for the Cardinals. The 6-7 Buckles is now a fifth-year senior described as a good inside-out player with good length and athletic ability. "He's a good player - skill and just [good at his] craft for his size," Taylor said. "Maybe I can take some stuff out of his game, put it into my game. ... I played against Rakeem Buckles when I was committed to Louisville; I'd go up and play with him in the summertime." With 10 different players making at least one start, the Panthers are a balanced bunch. Four are double-figure scorers - Murphy, Buckles, 5-6 point guard Raymond Taylor and 6-3 Dennis Mavien. Jerome Frink, a 6-6 forward, averages 8.9 points. "They play about eight guys; they've got good balance," Herrion said. "Their starters play a heavy workload, but they've good balance. They're an inconsistent but streaky 3-point shooting team." In conference play, FIU is second in field-goal defense (.400) and blocked shots (4.8), but last in scoring offense (58.4) and 3-point shooting (.250), 15th in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.71) and offensive rebound percentage (.264) and 14th in free-throw shooting (.618). Herrion calls the Panthers "more athletic than big." "We've got pretty good matches. We're comparable in our makeup," Herrion said. "They may have a little more length than us, but I think we match up with them really well." After tonight, Marshall has another quick turnaround, facing Florida Atlantic at noon Saturday. That contest will air on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast.
BRIEFLY: Surprising stat in the state of the Herd: In six conference games, it is shooting 66.9 percent, sixth among the 14 C-USA teams. That has raised the season average to 61.9 percent. Still, the Herd leads the nation in missed free throws, 226 as of Sunday. ... Kareem Canty leads the Herd in league play with 17.5 points and 5.2 assists. But he is cold from 3-point range, going 8 of 41. Taylor averages 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. ... Marshall played FIU on Nov. 29, 2010, beating the Isiah Thomas-coached team 88-79. DeAndre Kane led the Herd with 25 points. ... Anthony Evans is FIU's first-year coach, replacing Richard Pitino. Pitino, son of Rick Pitino, briefly served as director of basketball operations for Herrion at College of Charleston. ... Prior to arriving at FIU, Evans spent six years at Norfolk State, where he was 99-94.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.