MU learning to not get smacked in mouth
HUNTINGTON — Jarrod West’s definition of getting smacked in the mouth is when the Marshall University men’s basketball team falls behind early in games by wide margins.
Like at Maryland when the Terrapins pulled away by 15 in the first half.
Then at Ohio when the Bobcats led by 17 at halftime.
Or like Duquesne going up by 18 before halftime.
And, against Toledo when the Rockets held an 18-point halftime lead.
Those games represent the Thundering Herd’s four losses.
“We’ve been smacked in the mouth basically every game besides Morehead State,” said West, a 5-foot-11 sophomore starting guard, looking back at Monday’s home game when Marshall (6-4) didn’t trail by more than two and won 76-64. “At this level with the type of players teams have it’s hard to dig yourself a hole like that and come back every single game.
“I think we’re learning that slowly but surely and I think we have gotten a little bit better.”
Marshall players are taking final exams this week while also finding time to prepare for its next stretch of five consecutive games away from home.
The extended road swing begins with a 2 p.m. Saturday game with the Akron Zips (6-3) at James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron, Ohio, before a Dec. 22 contest at Texas A&M and a Dec. 31 game at No. 6 Virginia. Conference USA play for Marshall starts Jan. 3 at Old Dominion and Jan. 5 at Charlotte before the next home game, a Jan. 12 visit from Western Kentucky.
“Those are five good teams, five tough games,” West said. “We could win all five, or we could lose all five. At the end of the day we have to come ready to play. This will be a real test for us to see how tough we are, to see mentally where we are in the season right now. We have to be ready to go.”
Marshall will need to pack its own energy along on the road because the Herd won’t have its Cam Henderson Center average home crowd of 6,456 fans for support.
West said the team will need to withstand runs, fight through every play and deal with all the external factors of road travel to win.
The Toledo and Morehead State games showed some of what Marshall is capable of.
Toledo jetted into a 22-point lead early in the second half and Marshall came back to tie and had chances to win in regulation, but the Rockets held on for a 75-74 win. Against Morehead State, the Herd took the lead about five minutes into the contest and stayed ahead to the end.
West said the intensity level and overall effort against Morehead State was improved.
Marshall entered the season with high expectations as the defending C-USA champion that advanced into the NCAA Tournament second round and West said the early losses were a wake-up call.
“It just reminds us that last year means nothing,” West said. “Last year is over with. We have to adjust and we have to get better because (other) teams don’t care about that any more.”
One of the adjustments was meshing seven holdovers from last season’s team with seven nine new players, and that takes time to mesh. The team also had to replace 6-9 forward Adjin Penava who left school with one year of eligibility remaining. Penava was an all-conference performer who averaged 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds while leading the nation with 3.9 blocked shots per game.
Players were put into new roles. Iran Bennett (6-9 redshirt freshman) is working his way into better condition with his weight down to about 325 pounds. Jannson Williams (6-9 sophomore) is playing more at the power forward position. Darius George (6-7 sophomore) is needed to play bigger. Rondale Watson (6-5 senior) is being used more inside against taller players. Taevion Kinsey (6-5 freshman) and Mikel Beyers (6-9 sophomore) have worked their way into the rotation.
Finding consistency is the key for all of those players.
“We just have to continue to make our adjustments,” West said. “We have to come in and continue to get better every single day.”
The Herd’s only constants have been senior guards Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks scoring 21.0 and 18.5 points on a regular basis and West, a defensive specialist, chipping in six points a game and sharing the team lead in steals with Burks at 22.