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JANNSON

Marshall’s Jannson Williams puts up a shot during the Thundering Herd’s game against Arkansas State on Nov. 26 at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Marshall basketball head coach Dan D’Antoni runs a scheme that is guard-based, so naturally much of the emphasis — and talk — is centered around the Thundering Herd’s backcourt.

However, ask D’Antoni the key to his whole operation and he’ll say that it is frontcourt play, which might sound odd from the coach whose leading scorers are all guards.

That doesn’t make it any less true, though, as D’Antoni pointed out about his frontcourt players — Jannson Williams, Mikel Beyers, Obinna Anochili-Killen and Goran Miladinovic.

“Those four [players] are huge keys for our team,” D’Antoni said.

While the guard trio of Taevion Kinsey, Jarrod West and Andrew Taylor dominate the headlines, D’Antoni is quick to point out that it is when Marshall’s frontcourt players struggle that the Herd does the same.

“Stats aren’t important for those guys, but playing well is because a lot of the ball is dominated by our guards,” D’Antoni said. “They may not have the huge stats, but what they do when they do it and if they do it efficiently, it opens everything up for those guards.”

Williams, a senior forward who broke the Herd’s all-time career block record recently, leads the frontcourt contributions at 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Williams also is fourth in Conference USA at 2.2 blocks per game.

Williams’ versatility keys the guards’ ability to work the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop plays.

D’Antoni said the resurgence of the forwards and their roles within the pick-and-roll showed against Middle Tennessee as the Herd put up 203 points in two games.

“If you watched the last game, [Middle Tennessee was] so afraid of our dunks on the pick-and-roll that they were checking the roll guy,” D’Antoni said. “Then Jarrod and Taevion and Andy went right in. I don’t know how many layups we had.”

Behind Williams, Marshall forward Mikel Beyers comes off the bench as a critical cog to extend out the defense with his shooting range. Like Williams, Beyers is a 3-point threat who plays off the guard penetration well and forces the opposition out if a team decides to go to a zone defense.

Beyers, who is averaging 7.8 points, said D’Antoni made clear the importance for the bigs to step up their game, and they have over the last month.

“At the beginning of the season, [D’Antoni] sat us down in the film room and basically told us he knows what he’s going to get from the guards every night, and the full potential is going to be reached based on how good the bigs play,” Beyers said.

While Williams and Beyers have the most experience for the Herd, freshman Obinna Anochili-Killen has been a starter for much of the year while sophomore Goran Miladinovic has also seen his game grow over the past few weeks.

Killen had a breakout game in a win at FIU while Miladinovic has shown spurts of making big contributions, with the most recent being a 10-point, eight-rebound performance in a win at Old Dominion.

Part of that resurgence came as the Herd strung together a couple of weekends of play after COVID-19 disruptions hindered the early part of the conference schedule.

Once again, the pandemic’s effects hindered the Herd this weekend as its series at Rice was scratched after COVID-19 issues and contact tracing left the Owls unable to host a series in Houston.

That left Beyers without a return to his home town, but it also allows the Herd to make sure the team is clicking before its final four games of the regular season — all of which will come at Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

D’Antoni said things have started to click during the last six-game stretch and the Herd continues to keep that trend moving forward with the offense.

The Herd is getting production at all five positions, which is exactly what D’Antoni envisioned at the start of the year.

“The offense is designed to pick your poison,” D’Antoni said. “If we’re efficient, we’re taking whatever they give us and we’ll beat it.”

Beyers said the offense is starting to look like what it was last season, when the Herd finished the regular season strong before COVID-19 ended things prematurely during the conference tournament.

“We’ve come into our own, we’re finding our stride like we did last year and I’m really excited for the rest of the season,” Beyers said.