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Key players back, MU women excited for opener

November 8, 2018

Marshall's Khadaijia Brooks looks for a lane to drive against FIU in a Conference USA women's basketball game in 2016 at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington. Brooks missed the 2017-18 season with an injury.

HUNTINGTON — For Tony Kemper, it has been a long seven months.

Marshall’s women’s basketball coach has looked forward to the start of the 2018-19 campaign since last season ended with a disappointing 9-20 record and a lack of a berth in the Conference USA women’s basketball tournament.

For Kemper and the Thundering Herd, the offseason was about growth — both in an individual sense and overall as a team.

Part of the struggles of 2017-18 revolved around key players who missed either part or all of the season for various reasons. Now, with those pieces back in the fold, plus some newcomers from last year who gained experience, Kemper is eager to see how the unit meshes.

“We’ve got a unique team,” he said. “We actually return a lot of experience, and yet six of the players in our top rotation were not with us last year. There is still a level of we’re feeling out how we all fit together. That process is ongoing, but I like our spirit and I think they’re a competitive group.”

Indiana State, with former Toledo Rockets assistant Vicki Hall as its first-year head coach, visits Marshall at 6 p.m. Wednesday to open the season in Cam Henderson Center.

Two of the key Marshall players unable to play last season include forward Khadaijia Brooks and guard Taylor Porter — both of whom are battle-tested and have been key contributors in the past.

The likelihood is Brooks will be back in the starting lineup while Porter will be the sixth man off the bench providing a shooting presence while also being a veteran leader who can handle the ball.

“They lay it on the line,” Kemper said. “You know when they are out there you have a better chance of getting it right. We missed them last year and we’re certainly glad to have them back.”

In addition to Brooks and Porter, Marshall also returns senior Shayna Gore, who averaged 19.6 points per game last season, and center Ashley Saintigene, who was a post presence before injury ended her 2017-18 campaign. Guards Taylor Pearson and Kristen Mayo also return.

One of Marshall’s biggest issues last year was allowing extended possessions as a result of opposition offensive rebounds.

Kemper and his staff went to work this offseason in an effort to get the guards more involved in rebounding, which will help the post players. It isn’t an easy task for the guards who also need to close out on shooters to not allow uncontested 3-point attempts.

“Obviously, one year ago that was a major problem — coming out and getting beat pretty handily on the boards night in and night out,” Kemper said. “That’s got to be something that doesn’t happen if we’re going to have a chance to be as good as we want to be. I have to continue to coach it better. I think we’ve made strides, but I don’t think we’re everywhere we need to be on it yet.”

Indiana State was 11-19 last season and struggled to score, averaging just 59.3 points per game.

The Sycamores are led by junior guard Ashli O’Neal, who led the team with 12.0 points per game last season. The Sycamores also added a veteran guard in Wichita State transfer Tamara Lee, but have to replace forward Wendy Bibbins, who nearly averaged a double-double last season and was the team’s main rebounding threat.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

INDIANA STATE (0-0) at MARSHALL (0-0)

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Cam Henderson Center

Radio: WMUL 88.1-FM

Tickets: $5 adults, $3 kids

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