Danny D’Antoni never lost “The Faith.”
Marshall University’s veteran head basketball coach believed in star guard Taevion Kinsey when the 6-foot-5 junior was scoring 30 points against Akron.
And D’Antoni still believed in Kinsey when he was scoring only 10 points against Northern Iowa.
Was the Thundering Herd standout in a slump? Oh, most definitely. During a four-game losing skid against the likes of Ohio, Northern Iowa, Toledo and Louisiana Tech, Kinsey averaged only 14.3 points on 17 of 68 field goal shooting (25%) including just 2 for 18 on 3-pointers (11.1%). Struggling didn’t begin to describe Kinsey’s game or mindset.
But then something inexplicable occurred. After a truly forgettable first-half performance against Florida Atlantic a week ago, consisting of 2 for 10 shooting and only five points, Kinsey surprisingly found himself late in the second half, when the junior guard erupted for 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
Not everybody noticed, but D’Antoni certainly did.
“It was like he started getting his rhythm toward the end of the game,” remarked D’Antoni. “He started getting to the rim and finishing. Taevion started to get his rhythm. We’ve got to get him in rhythm, and and I think he will.
“He is dedicated to the sport and to working hard. I don’t know where he is pressure-wise, but you know what? I’ve just got confidence in him. He’s going to find his rhythm and when he does we become a much better ball club.”
Those words were prophetic.
In Marshall’s very next game against Conference USA defending champion North Texas in the Henderson Center Thursday night, Kinsey exploded for 21 second-half points in the Herd’s down-to-the-wire 69-65 loss.
Kinsey finished with 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting with five rebounds and five assists.
So, in Kinsey’s last two games, he is averaging 24.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 45% from the floor and 80% from the foul line.
See why D’Antoni never stopped believing in his star guard?
“Again, I think some of our problems aren’t court-related,” said D’Antoni. “It’s more what’s going on around all these young men. Their futures. Their COVID issues. Just a lot of chatter and a lot of expectations.
“Everyone treats that different. It’s a tough thing to handle and get it perfectly right. I think he’s going to find himself. Taevion is a heckuva player, one of Marshall’s best ever. He’ll find himself.
“The problem is you start coaching him up whether you need to do this or coaching him up that he needs to do that, what happens when you start doing that is you start thinking. And sometimes they get coached everywhere except where they should be, which is on the floor.”
That’s when a player begins to second-guess himself.
“They start thinking,” said D’Antoni, “‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t do this or maybe I should try that or they’ll think more highly over me if I show them I can do this.’ You start thinking on the floor and you get indecisiveness.
“Taevion has just got to play. He’s a heckuva player. If he goes out and plays ... well, you know, some people say, ‘You need to tell him not to do this.’ You know, it’s hard to pick and choose ‘nots.’ Because when you start doing that, then they don’t know exactly when. So, they start thinking and it’s not a good thing.
“I trust Taevion. He’ll find his way. When he does, we’re going to be a heckuva ball club.”
MU fans caught a preview of that on Thursday night. With any luck, they’ll get another showing when Marshall hosts Rice at 7 p.m. Saturday in “The Cam.”
So, is Kinsey back?