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Herd starts rough road stretch tonight

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For a Marshall team that is trying to shake off a horrifying road resume, tonight's contest isn't conducive to that end.

The Thundering Herd begins its difficult two-game trip tonight at Southern Mississippi, one of two undefeated teams in Conference USA play. The other is Memphis, which will await the Herd on Saturday.

But first things first. The Golden Eagles (15-4 overall, 4-0 C-USA) have a serious chance at their second at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, at the least, and have compiled a daunting record at home - 10 straight conference wins, 22 straight wins overall. The Eagles haven't lost at home since March 2011, to Alabama-Birmingham.

Marshall (9-9, 2-1) hasn't won a road game this season and is 0-8 against Division I opponents away from Huntington. The Herd will try to reverse all those trends in the 7 p.m. EST contest at Reed Green Coliseum. The game airs on WCHS, Channel 8 in Charleston-Huntington, Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast elsewhere.

MU leads the all-time series 8-6 but is 1-6 in Hattiesburg, including a 67-63 setback last January.

"It's a security blanket for most places," MU coach Tom Herrion said of home-court advantage. "But when you're winning like that, it's really tough. It started with [Larry] Eustachy and Donnie [Tyndall] has picked it up."

Since the Golden Eagles lost to Marshall in the Conference USA tournament semifinals and fell to Kansas State in the NCAA tournament, Eustachy moved on to Colorado State. USM lured Tyndall from Morehead State, where he led the Eagles to a win over Louisville in the 2011 NCAA tourney.

A few things are the same, including Southern Miss' role as Rating Percentage Index darlings. Entering Tuesday's games, the Eagles were ranked No. 40, similar to the position that helped them get an NCAA bid last March.

Neil Watson is one of the league's better point guards, averaging 9.0 points, 5.0 assists and shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range. Dwayne Davis, in his only season after being sidelined academically, leads a balanced attack with 12.9 points per game. The scoring is so balanced that nine players average 9.0 points or higher.

Inside, Jonathan Mills averages 9.1 points and a team-6-high 6.7 rebounds. He is just 6-foot-5, but he's a beefy 240 pounds. Daveon Boardingham, a 6-7 junior-college import, averages 7.4 points and 3.4 rebounds off the bench and leads the team with 16 blocks.

The steals are about as spread out as the scoring - Watson and Michael Craig each have 33, but six others have 18 or more over 19 games. Accordingly, the Eagles have a plus-68 turnover margin, a troubling number for a Marshall team that is minus-32 over its last five games away from home.

"Donnie plays differently than Larry did," Herrion said. "He extends the floor and shows more press, plays zone, a very aggressive, extend-the-court matchup zone. They're playing a little faster, a little more aggressively."

The Herd is coming off another big game under the "security blanket" of Cam Henderson Center, a 77-56 win over East Carolina. In its three conference games, even including the 74-63 loss at Texas-El Paso, the Herd is showing some of the explosiveness that was expected at the start of the season.

The Herd will need all that and more to start this road trip.

"It's a great challenge and they're really good at home," Herrion said of the Golden Eagles. "If we do certain things well and do them for 40 minutes, we'll give ourselves a chance."

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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