Herd offense bottoming out
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It wasn't that long ago that Tom Herrion made multiple declarations about his Marshall team along the lines of "offense is not a problem with this team."
Now, it's a problem that is not just hitting rock bottom, but pushing it downward. Eleven days after scoring 54 points against Kentucky, the Thundering Herd "bottomed" that in a 53-51 loss Wednesday night to Delaware State.
That scoring output was tied for the third lowest in Herrion's three seasons. The other 51-point outing came a full year ago, Jan. 1, 2011 against Akron in an epic 67-51 stinker.
The Herd has scored just 48 and 49 points in its last two home games against Alabama-Birmingham, 64-48 and 56-49 setbacks.
But those programs are more accomplished than that of Delaware State, member of the oft-disrespected Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. That league owns one other win over the Herd, by South Carolina State on Dec. 29, 2005 on a neutral floor.
Fittingly enough, that came in the offensively challenged Ron Jirsa era, in a season in which the Herd barely shot 40 percent from the floor. Even with Mark Patton in the middle, that team struggled to score in the halfcourt game as well.
Wednesday night, the Herd scored 25 of its points on second chances, thanks to 20 offensive rebounds. At least three times Marshall scored after near turnovers, so few of the 17 MU field goals came in a well-executed halfcourt set.
Starts of games have turned into turnover crises. Wednesday night, the Herd started by scoring on just three of its first 15 possessions, with six turnovers, comparing not so favorably with other recent games.
Against Cincinnati on Dec. 15 in Charleston, the Herd started with 11 turnovers in 20 possessions. Against Savannah State, the Herd scored three times in its first 20 possessions, with four turnovers.
At Kentucky, the Herd strayed from that script, waiting until it was tied with the Wildcats at 20 before scoring just twice on 22 possessions, with seven turnovers.
"We had a great week of practice; it's a broken record now, I don't want to ... " Herrion said, voice trailing off. "I don't know. No one in Cabell County or this part of the state is struggling to find these answers more than me and my staff, I assure you of that.
"We responded with great attitude and effort. Our focus was excellent, right up till ... I don't know, maybe we didn't have enough energy, legs, I don't know. Maybe I wore them out; I don't know. I don't think we did; I backed them off the last couple of days, but ...
"We continue to befuddle me, and I've got to figure it out. It's my responsibility as a head coach."
It doesn't take John Wooden to figure out one of Herrion's problems - he wears No. 50 and averages 8.5 assists a game, but has sat the last four games with his hand in a cast.
Herrion has expressed hope for DeAndre Kane's return early next week from a hand injury. The exact nature of that injury and how it occurred have never been specified, and Herrion has been terse about the subject - more than he usually is, if that is possible.
Such was the case again Wednesday night: "The only thing that will be news is when he plays," Herrion said.
The Herd's offense wasn't problem free with Kane, who was mired in an all-distance shooting slump. But the team's assist-to-turnover ratio in Kane's 10 games was 156-to-140 (1.11); during his four-game absence it has been 39-to-71 (0.55). Difficulty of opposition is a factor, as Cincinnati is still ranked No. 14 and Kentucky's Top 25 absence is temporary.
That wasn't a factor Wednesday against a team that entered the night 3-8 against Division I competition and benched its top scorer and top shot-blocker. But Delaware State won with yawn-inducing offense and sticky defense.
"We knew if we could get this team in a halfcourt set, and keep them out of playing in a straight line and limit their possessions, we had a great chance of winning," said DSU coach Greg Jackson. "We extended our defense, we gave them a zone look, man look, kind of kept them off balance most of this game."
Freshman Tamron Manning and sophomore Chris Martin have not filled Kane's void, as they have combined for nine assists and 19 turnovers in the four games. But the turnover bug has spread all over - Dennis Tinnon has 16 in the four games and Elijah Pittman has 11. Wednesday night, eight different Herd players turned it over in the first half.
Passing has been an adventure, and it led to the Herd's demise against Delaware State. With the game tied at 46, Tinnon was trapped near the foul line and his desperate attempt to find DeVince Boykins was interrupted by the Hornets' Jabari Joyner. After a timeout, Joyner's 3-pointer with 58 seconds left put the Hornets up for good.
Freshman Kelvin Amayo showed promise in his first extended action after becoming eligible, recording eight points, an assist and three steals in 16 minutes. He went 3 of 5 from the floor, showing a Kane-like ability to drive to the basket.
But Amayo did catch the Herd's free throw disease, hitting just two of his seven attempts. And Herrion is not ready to pronounce him the offensive savior, especially after Wednesday's result.
With a Kane-less road game at 2 p.m. Saturday against a veteran Ohio team, Herrion and his assistants are seeking anything that would make the Herd offense less offensive. The coach knows there is no easy answer.
"[Nonqualifier Kareem] Canty and Kane aren't playing," Herrion said. "Do the math. Guys aren't making plays, not making plays for other guys. Maybe we don't have guys who can do it, I don't know."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Marshall's lowest-scoring games under third-year coach Tom Herrion:
48 - vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Feb. 9, 2011 (64-48 loss)
49 - vs. UAB, Jan. 25, 2012 (56-49 loss)
51 - vs. Akron, Jan. 1, 2012 (67-51 loss)
51 - vs. Delaware State, Jan. 2, 2013 (53-51 loss)
54 - at Kentucky, Dec. 22, 2012 (82-54 loss)
56 - 4 times, last vs. Cincinnati at Charleston, Dec. 15, 2012 (72-56 loss)