HUNTINGTON — Marshall University men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni had a big smile on his face as he stepped onto the court for Thundering Herd practice on Tuesday.
Normally, head coaches don’t sleep much during the season, but D’Antoni said this weekend went against the norm after a built-in three-day break for the team.
“It’s helped me a lot,” D’Antoni joked. “I got to sleep and we won the last game and got to sit on it a while.”
While D’Antoni joked about the break, his decision to build it into the Herd’s schedule is no laughing matter for him.
“Last year, I thought we ran out of gas,” D’Antoni said. “This year, we tested the waters and gave them a three-day break. It’s a long season and we’ve got kids that play extremely hard. Giving them a little break, I’m hoping they come back refreshed because our road ahead is very, very difficult.”
Tuesday’s practice lent itself to the philosophy as Marshall’s players looked fresh as they went through drills with better pace and execution.
It was the first time they had been on the court together for practice since Friday — one day after a win over Howard — when the Herd convened before departing for the break.
“I can’t recall the last time that’s happened,” Marshall junior forward Jannson Williams said. “I actually didn’t realize it was three days until the first day of break. I was so excited.”
With Marshall hitting the road for Thanksgiving in anticipation of Friday’s contest at No. 24 Florida, it also allowed a few players to head home for a pre-holiday visit with family.
“I just chilled out and I got to see my family and hang out with them for a minute,” Marshall sophomore guard Taevion Kinsey said. “I know it’s probably going to be a long time before I see them again, so it was real fun.”
Kinsey is coming off the break with confidence after a 14-point, 14-assist, seven-rebound performance against Howard after going 7 for 8 from the floor and having just one turnover against his career-high assist performance in the 91-63 win over Howard.
“We needed that [win], especially going into the break,” Kinsey said. “That’s big, and then with this game that we have on Friday against Florida, I think it gives us confidence going into it.”
Williams added that, despite the break, players used the off-time from practice and the start of Thanksgiving break from classes to get in extra shots in the gym.
“We all got in the gym,” Williams said. “Everybody has to get in the gym. We’ve got to be disciplined. You just can’t go three days in the middle of the season without at least being in a gym.”
The lack of practice allowed for players to lock in to shooting from the outside, which has been a hindrance for the team.
Even though the Herd improved from the outside against Howard, the team is still shooting under 25 percent from 3-point range for the season through five games.
“It’ll come along,” Kinsey said. “Shooters keep shooting. It’s just going to take time and work.”
D’Antoni added that the break was especially important for mental rest prior to a tough upcoming stretch that is going to test his young team.
Marshall goes to Florida Friday before a mid-week contest against Akron. The Herd then returns a trip to Toledo, which previously defeated them, and also goes on the road for contests against Northern Iowa and Duquesne (in Cleveland) before non-conference play ends.
“It’s going to be a tough road,” D’Antoni said. “We’re going to see what happens.”