Found January 25, 2012 on Fox Sports:
HUNTINGTON - Tom Herrion often refers to rebounding and defense as the fabric of his Marshall men's basketball program. What he doesn't try to defend, however, is the Thundering Herd's offensive performance, especially of late. Even in starting Conference USA play 4-0 and losing twice last week away from home as an underdog, Herrion has been bewildered and befuddled by his team's offensive inconsistency. "I think, for whatever reason, it hasn't progressed to where I thought we would," the second-year Marshall hoops coach said in advance of tonight's 7 o'clock Conference USA home game against UAB (6-12, 1-4). "A lot of our offense comes down to our inconsistency shooting the basketball. We haven't made enough shots, which changes the dynamics of the game. "I think, historically, guys that are good shooters haven't made a lot of shots for us." Herrion earned a psychology degree at Merrimack College, but he has a firm grip of the mathematics involved in basketball. More made shots means more points and the team with the most points at the end of the game wins. Simple. Numbers suggest that there could be a happy marriage between the aforementioned backbones of Herrion's program and a little less offensive offense. Marshall is 13-6 (4-1 C-USA), but has won nine out of 10 games in which the team shot at least 42.5 percent from the field. The outlier there is last Wednesday's loss to West Virginia in the Charleston Civic Center. Marshall shot 45 percent from the field, but it was outrebounded for the only time this season (37-27). That means that anytime the Herd is shooting well - above that 42.5 percent number - and winning the boards ... it wins. And when the shots aren't falling? It gets dicey. Marshall is 4-5 when shooting below 42.5 percent, with losses to Ohio, Syracuse, Belmont, Akron and, most recently, last Saturday at Southern Miss. The Herd won three in a row in C-USA - against Rice, UAB and UCF - without hitting shots. Of course, Marshall grabbed 53 offensive rebounds in those three games combined and scored 56 second-chance points off of them. That tends to hide a deficiency. Herrion's Herd seemed to slip on offense when the calendar flipped to the New Year. In the past five games, Marshall is shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 50.7 percent from the free-throw line. That prideful rebounding and in-your-face defense has kept the Herd afloat against one of the 25 toughest schedules to date. "I think offense is fickle," Herrion said. "It's so inconsistent. We don't have specific numbers (to reach) in terms of field goal percentage and free throw percentage." Marshall's problems aren't hard to identify. Senior point guard Damier Pitts, a player some deemed a preseason snub on the all-conference team, has his lowest field goal percentage since his freshman season and has already missed 20 free throws, which equals the most he's missed in a single collegiate season - ever. Senior Dago Pena has a career-worst mark of 36.8 percent from the field and is three percentage points below his career average on 3s. That's not good considering he's hoisting a career-high 4.7 3s per game. Marshall's third senior, Shaquille Johnson, was key to the team's 4-0 start in league play, but his percentages on field goals (38.6), 3-pointers (25.9) and free throws (67.6) are all career lows. In three of the last four games, Marshall has had just one double-digit scorer. One has to go back to the 2007-08 season - Coach Donnie Jones' first at Marshall - to find a five-game stretch in which a team didn't score above 65 points. UAB won't make that an easy streak to vanquish considering its deliberate style of offense. "They try to control the tempo through their offense," Herrion said. "They have a lot of long possessions offensively, which shortens the game. "Patient. Very patient. Their sets are long and they make you guard until the clock runs out." Marshall might have turned the corner at Southern Miss when it whittled away at a 16-point deficit to trail by one point in the final minute before losing. The Herd shot 41.4 percent in the second half to go along with the rebounding (plus-11 for the half and plus-9 for the game) and defense (USM shot just 30.4 percent after intermission) that Herrion likes to harp about. One more made shot in the second half would have given the Herd a 44.8 shooting percentage ... and perhaps a road win against a top 20 RPI team. The rebounding and defense were there, but ... "We still need work; it's coming along," said DeAndre Kane, Marshall's leading scorer (15.4). "It's better than it was." How the offense improves from here will likely determine whether or not Kane can go dancing in those retro Jordan shoes in March. The rebounding and defense are staples, less prone to the fickleness that Herrion abhors about offense. "We're a little concerned still," the 44-year-old Herd coach said of his team's offensive development, "but I kind of felt that way all along. We haven't remedied it yet. We've got to solve it, but we've got time. "We have talent and weapons, we just have to figure it out. That's part of the challenge." DAILY MAIL FILE PHOTOS Marshall's Dago Pena, above, is shooting just 36.8 percent from the field. Shaquille Johnson, left, is shooting career lows in field goals, 3-pointers and free throws. Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at chuck.mcgill@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.
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