HUNTINGTON — Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni has visions of winning a Conference USA championship in the 2019-20 season.
As the Thundering Herd started that trek Thursday against Rice, D’Antoni made a lineup switch that was geared toward helping his team be at its best throughout conference play.
D’Antoni’s foresight — or “four” sight, as the case may be — involved moving Darius George into the starting lineup and bringing Jannson Williams off the bench as a spark, a flip from the entire non-conference part of the schedule.
It paid off with the “four” position having one of its more efficient performances of the season, especially on the offensive end.
D’Antoni was quick to point out that it was not a demotion for Williams; instead, it was more the product of what George had accomplished in a recent surge that has the Herd as winners in five of six games.
“Since we’ve gone 5-1, he’s had some really good ballgames,” D’Antoni said of George. “He really earned that position. It wasn’t trying to demote Jannson. It was just that George earned it.”
A change like that to the starting lineup could cause some difficulties in rhythm and chemistry, but Thursday proved that there was none of that present with all of the “four” players contributing in big ways.
Marshall’s three main players at the spot — George, Williams and Mikel Beyers — produced 23 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals.
As a team, Marshall (7-7, 1-0 C-USA) was plus-29 with George on the court, the highest of any Marshall player, and he contributed seven points and six rebounds. Williams led the offensive charge from the group with nine points while registering three rebounds, three blocks and two assists while Beyers added seven points.
More importantly, those three players each shot over 50 percent from the floor, which is a stark contrast to the early part of the season when Williams and Beyers struggled to find their rhythm.
Especially in the case of Williams, the move could have been tough, but teammates lauded how he handled it by putting forth a productive effort in which he showed the ability to impact all areas of the game.
“I want to really applaud Jannson, honestly,” Marshall junior guard Jarrod West said. “He came off the bench and produced today. I’m happy for him. I thought he did a great job on defense.”
Having all three “four” position players start out strongly in conference play could be critical going into Saturday’s 2 p.m. home contest against North Texas (7-7, 0-1).
The Mean Green features a scheme that could see the Herd cycle through lineups, which may include Williams or Beyers also being on the court as a “five” at times in lieu of centers Iran Bennett and Goran Miladinovic.
“[North Texas is] very athletic and [has] five guys that can shoot, so it’s going to be a challenge for Goran and Iran because they have five guys at perimeter — they play five-out — and they try to get up into you defensively like we do,” D’Antoni said.
Regardless of what the lineup may bring, Thursday night’s performance against Rice — a contest in which the Herd shot 58 percent from the floor, including 67 percent in the second half — gives D’Antoni confidence to adjust as needed down low without fear of a production dropoff on either end of the court.