HUNTINGTON — Jon Elmore’s lob pass was on the money, and Mikel Beyers overran it. Beyers reached back and used his athletic ability to snag the pass with his left hand and slam it into the basket for two points.
That kind of play by Beyers last weekend against UTSA is something the Marshall Thundering Herd wants more of.
Marshall’s biggest opening for improvement between now and the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament could come from the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, a junior college transfer who joined the Herd last summer with three years of eligibility.
“He’s got a lot of upside we haven’t touched yet,” head coach Dan D’Antoni said.
Beyers will have another opportunity to show what he can do in an 8 p.m. Thursday game when Marshall (13-10, 6-4 C-USA) visits North Texas (19-4, 7-3) at The Super Pit in Denton, Texas.
So far, Beyers has only shown glimpses. In his first 22 game appearances on the NCAA Division I level he’s averaged just 3.2 points and 1.7 rebounds while blocking nine shots and making 12 steals. His high game was nine points Jan. 17 in a victory over Florida Atlantic University and his season high for rebounds was six Dec. 10 when Marshall beat Morehead State.
He fouled out of games at No. 3 Virginia, when he played for a season-high 20 minutes, and again Saturday against UTSA in just 10 minutes on the court.
“Dan [D’Antoni] is keeping his confidence in me and that’s carrying over to myself,” Beyers said. “I feel like I’ve picked it up a little bit more. Definitely a little too aggressive in the last game going after a lot of shots and picking up silly fouls, but something you learn from and get better.”
Marshall plays North Texas Thursday and Rice (9-14, 4-6) at 8 p.m. Saturday before coming home to tackle UAB and Middle Tennessee on Feb. 14 and 16, respectively, before C-USA splits into three pods based on the standings for the final four regular-season games. Teams in pods first through fifth, sixth through 10th and 11th through 14th will play each other in the final four games. The concept is to have the top five teams playing more games against opponents of similar strength and possibly influence the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Old Dominion is on top with an 8-3 conference record and followed closely by North Texas and UTSA, both at 7-3. UAB, Marshall and Western Kentucky are tied for fourth place.
“Everything is really tight in the standings,” Beyers said. “From top to bottom everybody can beat anybody on any given night. That’s how we have to approach every game if we want to come out on top. Every free throw, rebound, defensive stop and missed shot counts.”
Elmore leads Marshall and is fourth on the C-USA scoring list with 20.6 points per game. The 6-3 senior point guard from Charleston has 2,361 career points in pursuit of Skip Henderson’s school record of 2,574 set from 1984 to 1988. Elmore has delivered 713 assists in his career, two shy of breaking the conference mark set by UTEP guard Julyan Stone from 2007 to 2011.
Close behind Elmore is 6-4 senior guard C.J. Burks averaging 18.4 points. Burks beat North Texas last season in The Super Pit, a 74-72 Herd victory, with a winning drive in the final five seconds. Elmore and Burks are the 11th-highest scoring teammate tandem in the nation.
Herd players Jannson Williams (6-9 sophomore forward), 6-5 freshman forward Taevion Kinsey, 6-4 senior guard Rondale Watson, 5-11 sophomore guard Jarrod West and 6-7 sophomore forward Darius George are scoring between nine and five points a game. Williams tops the Herd in rebounds with a 4.5 average.
North Texas has balanced scoring with six players averaging double figures. Ryan Woolridge is a 6-3 junior guard producing 12.4 points per game and 6-1 freshman guard Umoja Gibson follows with 12.1. Woolridge and 6-10 sophomore forward Zachary Simmons lead the Mean Green rebounders with 6.3 averages.
The Mean Green has the 12th-shortest squad in the nation, but has either matched or outrebounded 18 of its 23 opponents. A 3-point shootout could develop, with Marshall making 9.3 per game and North Texas sinking 8.7.
Marshall takes a 4-8 road record into The Super Pit (capacity 10,500), where North Texas is 11-1. The Mean Green is 25-7 at home in two seasons under head coach Grant McCasland.
The Mean Green’s average home crowd is 3,000.