Herd, West prep for ‘big week’ ahead
HUNTINGTON — Jarrod West, the smallest Marshall Thundering Herd player in the game at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, was called for a flagrant foul Saturday for excessive contact against the biggest player on the court, 6-foot-8, 220-pound Rice University forward Jack Williams.
The Rice player had the basketball at shoulder level and was swinging his elbows to keep the Herd defender away.
“He got me a couple times,” West said.
The Marshall sophomore guard is a tenacious defensive player who doesn’t back down and he responded by putting
Williams on the deck. At first only a personal foul was called, but after a review by the officials it was ruled a flagrant infraction, giving Rice two free throws and possession.
“I honestly didn’t think he could score on me,” West said. “That’s kind of why I stayed on him. He was smart. He did a good job of selling it. I wasn’t even trying to do that. I was just trying to step in front of him.”
Marshall knows it will get more gritty play from West when UAB visits for an 8 p.m. Thursday game in Cam Henderson Center that is a CBS Sports Network telecast. The Herd (13-12) and Blazers (14-11) are tied for sixth place in Conference USA with 6-6 records and have two games before pod scheduling begins for the final four contests of the regular season.
The Herd plays host to Middle Tennessee (8-17, 5-7) at 2 p.m. Saturday following the Blue Raiders’ game Thursday night at Western Kentucky.
“It’s a big week for us, but it’s a big week for a lot of teams,” West said. “Two games makes a huge difference right now in this league. If we go 2-0 we still have a chance to be in the top five. If we go 0-2 we will have a chance to be in the bottom four. It’s very important that we continue to just play and work hard in practice, We just have to stay focused. That’s all we can control.”
Marshall has lost three straight times and six of its last seven games to conference teams.
One of the problems has been falling behind by sizable margins and being forced to play catch-up, West said.
In the Saturday loss at Rice (74-59), the Herd trailed by 17 with 15:39 remaining got back within one. Two days earlier in a defeat at North Texas (78-51) the Herd faced a 19-point deficit early in the second period.
“A lot of our problem is we dig ourselves a hole and when you dig yourself a hole everything seems desperate,” West said.
The quickest way to get on top is to come out making shots, which Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni stressed this week.
Two of the team’s poorest shooting performances were in the last two games — 28.1 percent at North Texas and 32.3 percent at Rice. Freshman forward Taevion Kinsey is shooting 58.6 percent and is the the only Marshall player listed among the top 15 shooters in C-USA.
D’Antoni’s philosophy on getting out of a slump is to keep shooting.
“One thing is for sure, you don’t make a shot you don’t shoot,” the coach said. “A lot of shooting is mental, it’s not physical. These guys have shot enough over their life their muscle memory is good. Sometimes your mind gets in the way.”
D’Antoni said seniors Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks and Rondale Watson have to be more efficient leaders in the home stretch of the season for Marshall to repeat as C-USA champion and return to the NCAA Tournament.
Elmore, a 6-3 point guard, averages 19.8 points (fourth in the conference), but his shooting percentages are 37.5 percent overall and 32.3 percent for 3-pointers. The 6-4 Burks is fifth in C-USA scoring with 18.3 a game and he’s at 48.3 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent on threes. Watson is a 6-4 sixth man off the bench producing 7.3 points on 42.9 percent overall shooting.
Kinsey and 6-9 sophomore forward Jannson Williams are scoring 8.9 points and West produces 5.8. Williams is the leading rebounder with 4.8 and has 53 blocked shots.
Marshall puts up 79.2 average points (third in C-USA) and allows 83.0 (last in C-USA). The Herd is last in NCAA Division I rebounding (351 teams) at minus-10.1 per game.
UAB is on a four-game slide after winning four in a row. The Blazers’ league wins include games against UTSA, at North Texas and at Rice.
The Blazers score 70.2 a game and give up just 67.6.
Zack Bryant (6-2 sophomore guard), Lewis Sullivan (6-7 senior forward) and Jalen Perry (6-3 senior guard) lead UAB’s scoring with averages of 14.4, 11.2 and 11.0 respectively. Bryant is on a string of eight straight doublefigure scoring games and tossed in 30 against Rice. Sullivan has 18 games with double-figure scoring. Makhtar Gueye (6-10 sophomore forward) averages 7.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. Sullivan also gets 6.6 rebounds a game.
“They can win,” D’Antoni said. “They can beat you. They have extra incentive to beat us because we’re the (defending) champion.”
UAB (14-11, 6-6) at MARSHALL (13-12, 6-6)
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Cam Henderson Center
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM, WMUL 88.1-FM