Johnson poised to make history vs. Memphis
HUNTINGTON - If all goes routinely between now and 4 p.m. Saturday, Shaquille Johnson will play his 127th game in a Marshall uniform, the most in the 99 seasons of Thundering Herd basketball.
By merely taking the court Saturday against Memphis at Cam Henderson Center, Johnson will pass former leader Darryl Merthie. The record is partly a product of enlarged schedules and three CollegeInsider Tournament contests, but there is a durability factor.
Of his four-year classmates, Johnson is 11 games ahead of Damier Pitts and 14 ahead of Dago Pena. Johnson has missed just one game, the Herd's 85-60 win over Binghamton on Dec. 28, 2010.
And that wasn't because of illness or injury. Johnson was ejected in the previous game against James Madison, incurring an automatic one-game suspension.
"It will be great to go down in the record books as the [player with] the most games played," Johnson said Thursday before practice. "To have my name mentioned with some of them, it feels good."
Most important, Johnson will be playing his sixth game against Memphis, the backyard bully of Conference USA since Marshall's arrival. He has struggled against the Tigers, but scored 21 in the Herd's 83-76 loss Jan. 28 at FedExForum in Memphis. He played a season-high 38 minutes in the physical, emotion-charged contest.
"Yeah, it was a real war," Johnson said. "A play here, a play there, we could have come out on top. We've just got to come out and execute and do our thing, guard, rebound and take care of the ball."
Greg White was the first Herd player to reach 110 career games (113, 1977-81). Sam Henry (1980-84) tied that mark, and then Skip Henderson (1984-88) bumped it up to 125. Merthie played his 126th two seasons ago.
Memphis avoided the Conference USA upset bug Wednesday night, roughing up East Carolina 70-47. That was a good result, considering how Southern Mississippi and Central Florida fell to teams below them in the standings.
The Tigers (20-8 overall, 10-3 C-USA) were bitten last Saturday, though, at home by suddenly hot Texas-El Paso. It was just the third time the Tigers have lost a conference game at FedExForum since the 2005-06 realignment, and the Miners' first road win of the season.
And that didn't sit well with Memphis coach Josh Pastner. He got so steamed he yanked the names off his players' jerseys. He didn't undo the stitching personally, but you get the idea.
"I felt, in the UTEP game, we played selfishly," Pastner said Thursday. "We didn't have the right approach, we didn't have the right attitude.
"So I said, 'OK, if you're going to play like that, I'm taking the names off the back of the jerseys - it's about the name on the front of the jersey.' I locked them out of the locker room, wouldn't let them wear anything with 'Memphis' on it in practice. It was intolerable, that effort vs. UTEP."
The Tigers recovered from a 13-turnover first half to blow the Pirates out of the building, starting with a 12-4 run and never letting up. ECU scored only 15 points in the half, shooting 22.2 percent.
Don't expect names on the back of Memphis jerseys on Saturday. If Pastner has his way, that will be the case for the rest of his time there.
But he is letting the team back in its practice center locker room.
Once again, you never know what you're going to get from Marshall at the free-throw line. Wednesday night, it was a season-worst 4-of-18 thud.
Occasionally the frustration showed. After DeAndre Kane failed to finish two three-point plays and missed the first of a two-shot foul, he shook his head and grimaced - and then missed the next one.
Poor Jamir Hanner missed all four of his foul shots, and is 7-of-23 for the season. That, as much as anything, is probably costing him minutes.
But Marshall, still the worst free-throw percentage team in Conference USA at .606, has not been consistently wretched in recent games. The Herd was 14-of-18 Feb. 11 against East Carolina and 23-of-28 in the Feb. 4 loss at Tulsa.
But now it's back to basics for the Herd, which will need every point it can muster against Memphis.
"Mark Cline is the free-throw coach. He's not available to speak to the media tonight," Herd coach Tom Herrion quipped.
At the end of every pregame video-board show at the Henderson Center, Herrion is shown holding the public address microphone and hollering, "Go Herd!"
The excitable, jacket-shucking Herrion has been known to try to rile up the crowd during home games. He did so Wednesday night during the Herd's 66-58 win over Houston, coming out of a break.
"They're offended when I do that, I think," Herrion joked. "They're scared or something; they won't get up. They sit on their butts. I don't know, momentary lapse of my cognitive sense of where I'm at.
"Hopefully, they appreciate it, I hope they don't feel it's disrespectful to them. But they're so important to us, and I think we all share our passion. I hope they understand it's passion and energy that I'm trying to implore of them, and nothing else."
Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.