Marshall skids into C-USA play at 7-6
HUNTINGTON — Adjin Penava is still casting his shadow on the Marshall University men’s basketball program.
Marshall anticipated having the 6-foot-9 forward from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, back for his senior season, but he left college a year early to begin a professional career in Spain.
So far, nobody has filled Penava’s role.
“The biggest thing we’re missing is Penava,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said after Monday’s loss at No. 4 University of Virginia, a 100-64 defeat, that left the Herd with a 7-6 record and its sixth loss in the last nine games. “That was an unexpected loss and we haven’t filled that gap like we have to.”
Marshall tried 6-9 redshirt freshman Iran
Bennett at the power forward position with minimal results and now he’s lost for the season because of a broken foot. That leaves junior-college transfers Mikel Beyers and Ante Sustic as Marshall’s tallest players. Beyers, a 6-9 sophomore, shows signs of coming along while Sustic, a 6-10 junior, hasn’t shown much in limited playing time.
In addition to scoring and rebounding, the big men in Marshall’s system have to be rim protectors and screen setters who make the pick-and-roll game work. The pick-and-roll game opens things up on the perimeter for players such as senior guards Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks whose scoring averages have dipped from 22.7 and 20.1 respectively last season to 19.2 and 17.5.
While waiting for someone to solidify the position, D’Antoni has gone with a smaller lineup.
“We still have to have a four or five (position player), it’s important in our offense, that can put it on the floor and make plays,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve had that in the last three years and we don’t have that this year.
Elmore was held to 14 points against Virginia, the No. 1 defensive club in the nation. Burks scored 11 and senior guard Rondale Watson netted 10. Marshall shot 35.1 and was only 6 for 22 on 3-point attempts in its lowest scoring game this season.
Virginia had its highest scoring game in head coach Tony Bennett’s 10 seasons, led by junior guard Kyle Guy with 30 and seven 3-pointers. Guy established career highs for points and with eight rebounds. Junior guard Ty Jerome and 7-1 sophomore Jay Huff both added 14 points.
The Cavaliers took off from a 5-5 tie into a 50-25 halftime lead and stretched their advantage to 91-48 with 3:19 left in the game.
Penava wasn’t very good in his first two seasons and blossomed as a junior into an allconference player who scored (15.6 per game), pulled down rebounds (8.5) and led the nation in blocked shots with 3.9 a game.
D’Antoni is hoping Beyers can do that too. Beyers had a season-high 20 minutes of action against Virginia (12-0) with five points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.
“If I can get Mikel Beyers at 6-9 to be able to do a little bit off dribble, which he’s capable of, then maybe we can get our flow back and that flow creates the angles for Jon to get up in there and for C.J. to get up in there,” the head coach said. “Right now we’re just not very good.”
Marshall stayed in the state of Virginia to play its next game, the Conference USA opener at 1 p.m. Saturday against Old Dominion University (10-3) in the Ted Constant Convocation in Norfolk. ODU had some impressive nonconference wins against VCU, James Madison, at then-No. 25 Syracuse and at Richmond.
Another C-USA game is 4 p.m. Saturday at Charlotte (3-8) before a Saturday, Jan. 12, league home game with Western Kentucky (7-6) at 7 p.m.
“It can flip in a heartbeat, so hopefully we’ll be around at the end of the year,” D’Antoni said. “Old Hillbilly Ball will come back.”
MARSHALL (7-6) at OLD DOMINION (10-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Ted Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, Va.
RADIO: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM