HUNTINGTON — Marshall is facing a big problem in its Conference USA opener on Thursday in Ruston, Louisiana.
How big? Oh, about 6-foot-7, 275 pounds.
And, honestly, that 275-pound figure might be a bit low for Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Lofton Jr., who is likely closer to a biscuit under 300 pounds.
When an opposing team walks in the gym, Lofton may not physically look like the most imposing figure in the gym, but his combination of size and athleticism makes him one of Conference USA’s toughest matchups.
That is what the Thundering Herd faces when it takes on Louisiana Tech at 9 p.m. Thursday at Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston in a game that will be shown on ESPN2 and ESPNU.
“He’s got a lot of confidence in his game and he’s a load,” Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni said. “We’ve got to make his performance manageable for us to win.”
If Marshall (7-6) is to snap its three-game losing streak and get its conference slate off to a strong start, the Herd will have to find a way to stop Lofton, who is Conference USA’s top inside presence at 18.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Given the Herd’s struggles with interior performers this season, it is going to be a tall task against Lofton.
“They obviously present two or three situations we’ve got to prepare for that are difficult,” D’Antoni said.
One way Marshall can limit Lofton is by using its offense to its advantage, which means running the floor — even with the team’s post players — and wearing Lofton down.
Lofton is averaging just 25 minutes per game, so the Herd has to maximize the times when he’s off the floor and take advantage while also making life hard for the Louisiana Tech big man when he’s on it.
If there is an area in which Louisiana Tech has struggled this season, it is shooting from the 3-point line, where the Bulldogs are hitting just 32% of their attempts.
With those numbers, it is likely that Marshall uses its guards to help make Lofton work while forcing someone else to beat the Herd.
Coming into Conference USA play, Louisiana Tech (9-3) is not the only team struggling to knock down 3-point shots.
Marshall, whose offense relies on shots from the outside, comes into conference play ranked 13th of 14 C-USA teams in 3-point percentage, knocking down just 28% of its shots.
The struggles making shots from the outside has resulted in more crowded driving lanes for the Herd, which has led to an increase in turnovers as guards Taevion Kinsey and Andrew Taylor look to penetrate.
D’Antoni’s hope is that the team finds its confidence and stride from the outside again to open league play, which would cure many ills within the offense.
Kinsey leads the Herd at 19.7 points per game, which is second in Conference USA. He and Lofton are two of the top three scorers in the league, which brings intrigue to the matchup.
Wins at Thomas Assembly Center are few and far between for the opposition, with Louisiana Tech being close to impossible to beat at home. The Bulldogs have won 22 of their last 23 at home and are 7-0 there this season.
The lone team to beat them in Ruston in that stretch, though? That was Marshall, which earned an 80-73 win over the Bulldogs in the second of two back-to-back games there to open league play last year.