HUNTINGTON — Marshall guard Andrew Taylor could have been beaming at practice Thursday after turning in one of the top all-around performances of his young Thundering Herd career in Wednesday’s win over Florida Atlantic.
Instead, Taylor joined Jarrod West as the first players on the court during Thursday’s session with all focus on Saturday’s 4 p.m. regular-season finale at UTSA.
Facing the Roadrunners Saturday offers another chance at vindication for the Herd, which fell 72-63 to UTSA on Feb. 14.
The loss wasn’t just fresh in the team’s mind because it happened less than a month ago. It was also fresh because that game helped spark the change within the team that has carried the Herd over the last few weeks.
“We lost, but we learned,” Taylor said. “Obviously, at this level, you can’t just live with two guys scoring the ball.”
In that contest, West and Taevion Kinsey accounted for 42 of the Herd’s 63 points while also trying to lock down UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.
Others had trouble getting going in that game. Marshall (15-15, 9-8 Conference USA) hit just one of its first 21 second-half shots while UTSA turned the game in its favor.
The Herd did its job defensively on Wallace and Jackson but fell victim to lack of shooting and rebounding, which Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said came down to the same issue.
“It was all about energy,” D’Antoni said. “We’re looking at semantics of things, and what we’re doing and why we’re doing it was because we didn’t have the energy to do what we usually do. I hope we go down there with a little more sense of urgency.”
While the energy wasn’t on the court, it was certainly brought in the postgame locker room. Herd coaches had a pointed talk with players about what it’s going to take for the team to get to the next level within the league.
Taylor and West each said that talk went a long way toward the team taking accountability for its own play and turning things around.
“That was a game we felt we should’ve won and what the coaches said was correct,” West said. “It was accurate. We had to take what they told us individually and as a team and apply it and learn from it. We’ve just got to be able to sustain that because I felt like it woke us up a bit.”
Taylor said that the entire team realized that it had to pick up its play around Kinsey and West and offer support within their roles.
“They defend and they score, and I look up to them to see what I can do better,” Taylor said. “That was one of the main points where we said those guys are hard workers with accountability that are giving everything. We can’t let them go out like that. We’ve got to step up and help. That loss was a definite turning point in our mindset.”
Since then, Marshall’s offense has gotten better in each game. Against Florida Atlantic on Wednesday, the team scored a season-high 94 points, with five players finishing in double-figures.
Taylor scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and added four assists with zero turnovers. The freshman from Corbin, Kentucky, was held scoreless in the last contest at UTSA, and his added contributions could take a serious weight off West and Kinsey.
“It’s all just mental for us because we have shooters,” Taylor said. “I’ll put our top four or five guys against anyone in the league. When you’re out on the court, it’s all mental. That’s part of us growing as a team.”
With a win Saturday, Marshall would finish as the No. 6 seed heading into the Conference USA tournament, which starts next Wednesday in Frisco, Texas. The Herd would take on the UTEP-Rice winner in the first game of the tournament.
A loss likely means the No. 7 seed and a return date with UTSA in the first round. There is also a slim chance the Herd could face UAB in the first round as a No. 7 seed, but that scenario is not likely.