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Not an easy road trip for Herd

January 3, 2019

Let’s GPS this daunting road trip.

First, Marshall University’s basketball team left Huntington on Sunday and traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia. Then, the Thundering Herd played the University of Virginia, losing 100-64, on Monday.

Next, Marshall remained in Virginia, traveling to Norfolk to play Conference USA rival Old Dominion at 7 p.m. Thursday. Then, the Travelin’ Herd was scheduled to trek to Charlotte, North Carolina, so Marshall could play the 49ers at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

MU’s itinerary has the Meandering Herd arriving in Huntington on Sunday.

Phew.

How does a coach keep his team occupied on the road for an entire week?

“Well, we take them to a Brazilian steak house,” said D’Antoni with a laugh. “You know, it’s just practice. That’s when you have to have the maturity of your team. It has to be there. And that’s a little bit where we’re struggling. It’s easier to prepare when you’re at home.”

The players are in a routine.

“But you get out of that,” said D’Antoni, “and you have spare time and you really don’t have familiar things around you to do what you normally do. Then, you have a tendency to maybe mentally stray away from the game. The re-focus at this age and to bring it back — it’s difficult.”

So, this road trip actually could be a test of sorts?

“Oh, I wouldn’t say ‘test,’ ” said MU’s fifth-year coach. “But it will tell you a little bit, obviously. But I wouldn’t put it as being a test. It’s a great learning experience. I don’t know where we’ll grade out at. Whether it be a D or an A. It might be a B.”

Either way, D’Antoni is going to learn something about his team.

“I learn what I need to keep emphasizing — where we need to go and things of that nature,” he said. “When Ajdin (6-10 forward Ajdin Penava) left, that changed the rhythm of the team. Now, we’re still a very good team. And we’re close. I know some people look at the scores, but I’m telling you the scores don’t indicate how close we are. It can flip.”

So perhaps this extended road trip is what the struggling Herd needs right now.

“It could be,” said D’Antoni. “But I believe every game teaches you something — win or lose. The only way it becomes detrimental is if you get on that roller coaster and get too low on losses. But you also can get too high on wins.

“Again, this seven-day road trip will matter if our players do it the right way. But if they don’t do it the right way, it could be detrimental. It’s all about the maturity of your team and the focus that they have.

“I can use Mike’s team (his brother Mike D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets) as an example. They were awful 10 games ago. Now they’re really good. Well, we’re that close.”

Close enough to survive this road trip?

“For us to go play a top-5 team in the nation (Virginia),” said D’Antoni, “then play one of the top three teams in Conference USA (Old Dominion), and then at the end of a long road-trip play a game — Charlotte — that we’re supposed to win, and then come home and have to play one of the top three (Western Kentucky) ... that’s a difficult task, I don’t care who you are.”

Indeed.

Perhaps too difficult.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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