Big-man Bennett and the Herd face major challenge at Maryland
HUNTINGTON — Iran Bennett, all 6-foot-9 and 330 pounds of him, has a major challenge awaiting when the Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball team plays Friday against the Maryland Terrapins.
Bennett played the best all-around game in his redshirt freshman debut season Monday with 11 points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal with three personal fouls in 14 minutes of action in Marshall’s 95-71 defeat of North Carolina A&T in Cam Henderson Center.
“I think he’s getting better and better,” Marshall teammate Jon Elmore said. “I don’t think he’s even touched the surface of what he’s capable of doing.”
Marshall (4-0) has beaten four opponents from lesser conferences and steps into the big time against Maryland (5-0) from the Big Ten Conference at 6 p.m. Friday in the Xfinity Center at College Park, Maryland.
The major challenge Bennett faces comes from the Maryland twin towers - 6-foot-10 freshman Jalen Smith and 6-10 sophomore Bruno Fernando, who are both considered possible NBA players. Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said the Maryland big men are fast runners and Herd bigs will have to get back on defense.
The Terrapins are a running team, like the Herd.
“We have to be able to play their transition well,” D’Antoni said. “We have to handle the duck-ins and the high-low pick and roll. If we handle those things, shoot the ball well and handle them defensively, we’re all right.”
Herd guards Elmore and C.J. Burks will need to assist Bennett and other players defensively. Marshall’s defensive scheme is basically man-to-man, but it’s like a zone so the guards are helping out, Burks said.
Bennett (5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 15.3 minutes) has appeared in only four NCAA Division I games and is coming along slowly. He’s lost about 50 pounds and needs to drop more. D’Antoni substitutes in and out with 6-10 junior Ante Sustic as a replacement, but he also has four games under his belt.
“He’s (Bennett) never played at the speed we play,” D’Antoni said. “He’s never played more minutes than what he’s playing here. When he was at Hargrave (Military Academy) they subbed frequently for him. They didn’t ask him to come away from the basket; we do. It’s good for him because if he has a future in (pro) basketball he has to understand the game’s not played in the paint anymore. You have to get out and guard KD (Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant).
“We’ll work through it. He comes to work every day in practice and he’s a smart kid. He’s going to be good. I can’t mess him up.”
Bennett is on a low-carb diet to reduce his weight and comes to practice grinding every day, Elmore said.
Marshall played well in a hostile environment to win its season opener at Eastern Kentucky University, 105-77, but the crowd of 5,187 spectators in McBrayer Arena was less than Maryland presents with its 11,947 home game average in a 17,956-capacity building.
“We have to bring that same energy, that same focus, and we’ll be fine,” Burks said.
Marshall is ninth nationally in scoring with 93.5 points a game, and the offense revolves around Elmore, a 6-3 senior guard, and the 6-4 Burks, also a senior, with 23.0 and 21.0 averages respectively. Rondale Watson is a 6-4 senior guard leading the team with 6.5 rebounds a game and Elmore is next with 5.3. Burks is the team steals leader with 12.
Elmore is three points shy of passing Walt Walowac (1950-54) for third place on the Herd career list. Walowac scored 1,982 and Elmore has 1,980.
Darius George is a 6-7 sophomore forward producing 9.3 points. George scored 14, snagged five rebounds, had four assists and made two steals against N.C. A&T. He has improved his shooting to 52.0 percent and is 7 for 14 on 3-point attempts through his own work and coaching.
“We show them how to shoot, but all fixes come from the player,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t harp on them. I’m like, I’m going to show you this, but you have to take the responsibility to correct it. At the end, I put the onus on them to correct it, not me. I’ve found that it works a lot better when they buy in to fix it themselves.”
The Herd also has 6-9 sophomore forward Jannson Williams scoring 8.5 on average while 5-11 sophomore guard Jarrod West, more known for his defensive work, adds 8.0 and 6-5 freshman guard Taevion Kinsey is 6.5.
Maryland scores 81.0 a game, led by Fernando averaging 15.8, preseason All-Big Ten junior guard Anthony Cowan contributing 15.0 and Smith tacking on 13.8. Two other Terrapins in double figures are Darryl Morsell (6-5 sophomore guard) with 11.4 and Aaron Wiggins (6-5 freshman guard) at 10.8.
Marshall (4-0) at Maryland (5-0)
6 p.m. Friday, Xfinity Center, College Park, Md.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM