HUNTINGTON — On several occasions Thursday night, it appeared that Marshall’s men’s basketball team was playing 2-on-5 in a 72-63 loss to UTSA.
That’s because, in a lot of areas, it seemed like the Thundering Herd was facing the Roadrunners with only two players: guards Taevion Kinsey and Jarrod West.
Kinsey finished with 27 points to lead the Herd while also locking down UTSA’s Keaton Wallace to a 3-of-19 shooting effort. West, meanwhile, added 15 points and 10 rebounds while dishing out five assists and not turning the ball over for the Herd.
Still, West had a tough shooting night, much of which was brought on by the energy he expended to contain UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson — the nation’s second-leading scorer.
Other than that, the Herd had just two other players score more than two points — Mikel Beyers, who added 10, and Jannson Williams, who netted seven, with five coming in the opening minutes.
For Marshall to earn a weekend split in its Texas trip — which means a win over UTEP at 4 p.m. Saturday — the Herd must correct those mistakes quickly and find scoring from its other options.
Starting center Iran Bennett went scoreless for the second straight game Thursday night. The 6-foot-10, 310-pound sophomore is a formidable weapon on the inside when he is able to get into a rhythm and get touches, but has seen production waver as of late as teams have double-teamed him.
When that happens, Marshall’s offense slows down and results in numbers such as those seen Thursday when the team struggles to get into a groove. Marshall went the first seven minutes of the second half without a field goal and hit just two of its first 22 shots after the break.
When Marshall has gone to a smaller lineup, which includes Williams and Beyers in the frontcourt, the defense takes a hit, but the offense is able to move at tempo, which has increased production, as seen in the win over Louisiana Tech.
Marshall also did not get any offensive production from Andrew Taylor and Marko Sarenac, who had each shown a knack to step up at different times during the season. The only basket between the two on Thursday came off an acrobatic offensive rebound from Sarenac in the second half.
So what is Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni’s plan of attack as the team looks to its last matchup prior to C-USA’s bonus play? All eyes will be watching for that as the Herd takes the floor against the Miners on Saturday.
With the energy expended Thursday by Kinsey (40 minutes) and West (38 minutes) on the defensive end in trying to lock down Jackson and Wallace, it is safe to assume that both are going to be a bit leg-weary on Saturday.
The bounce-back is especially difficult considering that the trip is to El Paso, Texas, which is the league’s toughest trip, and the game comes less than 48 hours after the loss to UTSA. That means Marshall must find different options in scoring to shoulder some of the load on Saturday.
It also brings up an interesting scenario for D’Antoni as he prepares to face the Miners.
Does the Herd try to re-establish Bennett’s post presence against a UTEP team that is long but thin in the frontcourt, or does the Herd try to start with a smaller lineup to get into a flow and get scorers going quickly? Defensively, going smaller would not hurt the Herd as much with UTEP being one of the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams.
UTEP’s leader is junior forward Bryson Williams, who is averaging 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds. Williams is a 6-8, 228-pound athletic forward who is hitting 52 percent of his field goal attempts on the season.
The Miners also have a pair of 6-9 and 6-11 post presences, but no one above 240 pounds, so D’Antoni and staff have to dissect the options to find what plays into their hands the best.
Regardless, the Herd does not want to limp into C-USA’s bonus play with a pair of losses, so Saturday’s contest is an important one as the Herd moves toward the final two weeks of the regular season.
A loss would place Marshall as the No. 10 seed in C-USA’s bonus play with the team having losses to all teams in the second pod that it is currently tied with in the standings (FAU, UTSA, UAB).