CLEVELAND — There is a theme that Marshall men’s basketball players and coaches have heard several times this season.
And it isn’t one they are a big fan of hearing.
That theme is “moral victories” — an existence in which the Thundering Herd has played well against against some top-tier competition.
It’s just not good enough to win.
Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said his team hopes to reverse that fortune in their final opportunity of non-conference play as they take on Duquesne at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I get tired of walking in there and saying, ‘Alright, we played good’ but then, we’re on the losing end of that,” D’Antoni said. “I get a little tired of that and I’m sure they are too. We have to be a little bit more consistent on some defensive areas, and we need about three people to grow. If we get that done, we’re going to be a very good ball club.”
In D’Antoni’s eyes, Marshall (5-7) is coming off one of its better performances of the early portion of the season, albeit in one of those good losses that D’Antoni alluded to being sick of.
Marshall fell 88-80 on the road at Northern Iowa — a team that is now 11-1 and prides itself on its defense.
The fact that Marshall’s offense was able to put up 80 points on a defensive-minded team was an aspect that players were happy to see.
“Even though we lost to Northern Iowa, I think we played those guys really good,” Marshall freshman guard Andrew Taylor said. “They shot the ball really well. That was a really good team — top-25 in my opinion. Duquesne will be another good team.”
Taylor has led a resurgence of sorts for the Herd — a team that has started to come together offensively.
Last week, Taylor was named the Conference USA freshman of the week after averaging 16 points, 4.3 rebounds and four assists in his first three collegiate games.
The final of those games was the loss at Northern Iowa in which he scored 27 points.
Fellow back-court teammate Jarrod West praised Taylor’s poise and said he is a difference-maker for the team, but the growth process continues on Sunday.
“I feel like we’re starting to figure some things out,” West said. “Duquesne is obviously a really good team, so I think it’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be a challenge as well.”
Both Taylor and West said that Duquesne provides a tough test as a team with talent that likes to get after opponents defensively while using its post game on the offensive end.
“They were one of like only three undefeated teams left, so it is definitely going to be a good test right before conference play,” Taylor said.
As conference play approaches, Taylor knows that the days of moral victories are quickly coming to an end.
“We’ve been so close to beating a lot of those teams, and I think that drives our hunger even more,” Taylor said. “You can see it even the practices after those big games. Everybody is coming in like, ‘This is how good we can be.’”
D’Antoni added that he is excited for the prospects of his team after seeing them perform over the last week.
“Do I like what I see? Yes. Do we have some things [to fix]? Yes,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got to get two or three other guys to step up a little bit. We’ve got four playing pretty solidly. We need about three more.”
Tip-off time for Marshall’s contest with Duquesne is approximately 2:30 p.m., but the game is the second of part of a doubleheader in the inaugural Cleveland Classic, so that start time is fluid.
Marshall’s Cleveland Classic matchup with Duquesne is the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Prior to the Herd and Dukes, West Virginia meets Ohio State in a noon tipoff at the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers.