Marshall trying to fill Penava’s shoes

December 4, 2018

HUNTINGTON - Marshall’s Thundering Herd is finding out the loss of Ajdin Penava left a big hole in the lineup.

Penava was a 6-foot-9 starting forward for last season’s Conference USA men’s basketball champions who was Marshall’s third-leading scorer (15.6 per game), its leading rebounder (8.5) and the nation’s leading shot blocker (3.9). He left school with one year of eligibility remaining and is playing professionally in Spain.

Iran Bennett stepped into a starting job through Marshall’s first seven games this season and is still a work in progress. Bennett, a 6-9, 330-pound redshirt freshman, is averaging 4.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and less than one block a game. The Herd has 6-9 sophomore Mikel Beyers and 6-10 junior Ante Sustic backing up Bennett and they’re also NCAA Division I rookies trying to work their way into the mix.

Head coach Dan D’Antoni has confidence in Bennett him and thinks he’ll develop, but he doesn’t know when. A lot of the “when” hinges on Bennett losing weight.

“He’s just not there yet,” D’Antoni said. “He’s done a yeoman’s task going from 379 (pounds) down to 329, but the problem was it was 379. It should have been 330 and now we’re at 280. That would have been perfect. It was too big of a gap to close. He’s a freshman and has a long way to go. I see a lot of promise in him.”

Marshall (5-2) plays a 7 p.m. Wednesday game at Duquesne University (4-2) in Pittsburgh. On his Monday night radio show D’Antoni said he’ll probably go to a smaller four-guard lineup with 6-4 senior Rondale Watson joining the group of senior guards Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks and sophomore guard Jarrod West along with 6-9 sophomore forward Jannson Williams. Watson has been valuable in a sixth-man role averaging 5.4 points and 5.0 rebounds.

A lineup change would be to create more rhythm offensively and speed the game up, D’Antoni said.

Beyers might get more of a look. He was late joining the squad last summer while he completed some junior college classes and didn’t make the exhibition tour to the Bahamas. He’s appeared in six games for an average of 7.0 minutes while contributing 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds.

“He (Beyers) has a good feel for the game,” D’Antoni said. “He can spread the floor and do some of the things Penava did. I’ve got to give him a chance.”

Elmore, a 6-3 point guard and the 6-4 Burks are scoring 21.4 points and 18.9 points to lead the Herd while Williams adds 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. Darius George, a 6-7 sophomore forward, provides energy coming off the bench with 8.4 points and 4.0 rebounds. West is a 5-11 defensive stopper who also scores 6.9 a game.

Marshall is first in Conference USA 3-point field goals with 10.3 per game.

The Herd and Duquesne Dukes meet for the first time since Dec. 29, 1978. Duquesne leads the all-time series 3-1.

Duquesne 5-8 sophomore guard Tavian Dunn-Martin from Huntington is the son of former Marshall guard Frank Martin (1992-94). Dunn-Martin comes off the bench to average 7.0 points and 3.2 rebounds.

Eric Williams Jr., a 6-6 sophomore, leads Duquesne with 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. Michael Hughes is a 6-8, 250-pound sophomore who followed head coach Keith Dambrot from the University of Akron two seasons ago and scores 12.7 while getting 6.3 rebounds.

Dambrot’s two-season record with the Dukes is 20-18. He was 305-139 in 13 seasons at Akron with three NCAA Tournament appearances.

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