Marshall basketball: Herd wraps road schedule at Old Dominion
HUNTINGTON - The list of goals for the Marshall men's basketball team has shrunk this season with each loss. Finishing first in Conference USA's regular season is impossible. So is grabbing a first-round C-USA tournament bye as one of the top eight seeds.
The Thundering Herd enters its final regular-season road game at 7 tonight at Old Dominion playing for seeding in the conference tournament's first round. At 9-19 overall and 3-10 in conference, the Herd is looking up at everyone but last-place Rice. Yet Marshall hasn't thrown in the towel.
Freshman forward Ryan Taylor said the Herd is playing for more than the highest tournament seed it can achieve. Pride in a strong finish is on the line, too.
"I think all of it right now is playing for pride," Taylor said. "I think none of us have been on a losing team or had a losing season like this in our careers. I think it's probably 100 percent playing for pride, so we're going out there and playing our hardest."
Hostile road environments, which had been one of Marshall's major weaknesses, has been less so the past couple of months. The Herd has won two of its last five road games and played both Southern Mississippi and Tulane to three points in two others. The Herd held a lead for most of the game against the Golden Eagles before falling on a late Neil Watson 3-pointer. Marshall then climbed out of a double-digit hole into a tie with the Green Wave, only to lose on a late Jay Hook 3.
Sophomore guard Tamron Manning said Marshall has matured in a short time to a point where it no longer shrinks away from competition on the road.
"I think we've become more focused," Manning said. "On the road you have to do everything better. We became more focused and got older as the year progressed.
"We just know how we can win and what we need to do to win," he continued. "So we go into a game like Southern Miss or a game like UTEP on the road and we just played as hard as we could."
Marshall visits a Monarchs team in Norfolk trying to regain the consistency it enjoyed earlier in the season. ODU (13-15, 7-6 C-USA) started its conference slate at 3-0 as part of a four-game winning streak. Yet after that streak ended with a Jan. 23 home loss to Southern Miss, Old Dominion hasn't won consecutive games since, going 4-5.
"They're like a lot of teams," Herrion said. "They're young as well, but they're really a dangerous team in terms of their streakiness. When they're making shots, they're really, really good. They've got enough guys that shoot pretty well. When they're making shots, they become a different type of team."
Sophomore guard Aaron Bacote leads Old Dominion with 16.2 points per game, the conference's sixth-best scoring average. Yet he's struggled with consistency at times himself, especially during the last nine games. Sprinkled among performances like his 22-point night in a win over the University of Texas at San Antonio and his 25-point night in a loss to Louisiana Tech are a four-point night in a loss to the University of Texas at El Paso and his scoreless night in a loss to Tulsa.
Herrion said Marshall must be wary in the low post of 6-foot-6 redshirt junior forward Richard Ross, who averages 9.2 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds, the 10th best average in C-USA, and 2.36 blocks, tied for the conference's second-best average. Herrion called Ross a "freak athlete" and "probably, pound-for-pound, the best athlete in the conference."
The Herd is trying to hold off what would be just the fourth 20-loss season in program history and the first since Ron Jirsa's second season in 2004-05. Herrion feels Marshall's record belies the improvement the team has made toward the end of the season, standing toe-to-toe with tough road opponents and with teams like Middle Tennessee playing some of the conference's best basketball. It's progress he can see in practice and on film, but not in the Herd's win total. And he knows that total is what's most important.
"I think we've been much more consistent," Herrion said. "We just don't have the results to show for it.
"The results aren't there. We've got to play for 40 minutes and make winning plays on both ends of the floor."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshal