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Herd hoops, Huntington hotels and Classic musings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- THE PREVIOUS TIME Marshall lost a men's basketball game by 56 points, it went out and won the next game.

OK, so the opponent was Roanoke College. It was February 1976 and the Thundering Herd was an independent, scrambling to put together a schedule.

The 118-62 loss at DePaul followed a 104-78 loss at Eastern Kentucky. Under Bob Daniels, the program was a full year away from completing the fall from 20 wins to 19 losses, but the grumbling was well underway. Fifty-something and older Herd fans can tell it better than I can.

Fast-forward 37 years to last week, which nearly became the most up-and-down week in MU hoops history. Wednesday night, the Herd fell behind 47-7 and lost 102-46, scoring 13 fewer points against Southern Mississippi than the football team did a few months earlier.

In this era of rapid-fire social media, the Herd became a national punch line. But three days later, it scared 16,000-plus Memphis fans in a 73-72 loss, MU's best effort in seven road losses to the near-perennial Conference USA champs.

If you're looking for some deep reason why, forget it. I have no way to explain this, and I have no fuel for the "fire everybody" faction of Herd fans. (My next Twitter avatar may "honor" that group. Stay tuned.)

All I can do is (a) thank the good Lord I wasn't in Hattiesburg to witness the Southern Miss game in person and (b) recall some of the other great flame-outs in MU history.

Among those that come to mind includes the 106-57 collapse against Davidson at the Henderson Center on Jan. 27, 1996. That was the second and final Billy Donovan team, complete with Jason Williams at point guard.

That came off an 86-69 win over Tennessee-Chattanooga, hated conference rival of the time. The Herd beat the Mocs three times that season, and also owned a 91-87 win over West Virginia.

To further add to the mystery, the Herd followed the Davidson disaster with a 95-71 win over Furman and a 98-54 hazing of The Citadel. But as entertaining as that MU team was, it fell to Davidson three times, including in the Southern Conference semifinals.

How about February 2002, when the team of Tamar Slay and J.R. VanHoose lost 116-76 at Kent State and 87-52 at Buffalo? That was memorable because those were the two games immediately preceding my start as the Gazette's MU beat writer.

Eleven years later, I still find myself asking, "What have I gotten myself into?"

The season-opening 94-73 loss to the University of Charleston in November 1985 at the Civic Center was epic. That Herd's season ended about as shockingly, with a loss to sixth-seeded East Tennessee State in the league tournament.

But for a purely bad result, 102-46 shall be burned into the minds of many Marshall followers.

 

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    In case you missed it, Northern Illinois scored four points in the first half Saturday against Eastern Michigan in a 42-25 loss. The four points broke a shot-clock era record for lowest in the first half, as did the 3.2 percent (1 for 31) field-goal percentage.  

    The futility from the floor stretched to 1 of 37 before the Huskies broke a 24-minute, 33-second field-goal drought. They rallied to finish the game at 13.1 percent (8 of 61).

    Yes, things can always get worse.

     

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    With Central Florida coming to town, I am reminded of a memorable Friday night Twitter skirmish last year.

    Like many other visiting teams, the Knights landed at either Huntington's Tri-State Airport or Charleston's Yeager Airport, then bused to the Pullman Plaza Hotel in downtown Huntington. Putting their smartphones to good use, they immediately photographed the hotel's rough edges and posted them on Twitter.

    Those pictures, with accompanying wisecracks, triggered return fire from Marshall fans who don't care for UCF in the first place. It added a little more flavor to the game the next day, won 65-64 by the Herd.

    But that all brings up a question: Is downtown Huntington's flagship hotel in a downturn?

    More and more, I keep hearing the answer is yes.

    The last time I stepped foot in the building was for the visit of Hal Greer a year ago, at a reception in Greer's suite. My thought was that it was nice enough, but could stand an update. But don't ask me, for I would just as soon stay at the Holiday Inn and Suites down the street.

    I sat with an out-of-town MU fan on a Charlotte-to-Charleston plane ride and brought up the subject. He said he stays there on visits to Huntington, but wouldn't recommend it to friends.

    A sample of one, yes, but a telling testimony. MU needs a top-line hotel near its campus, and the only candidate may not be delivering.

     

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    Today, we shall have golf.

    Last week, Gazette colleague Tommy Atkinson tracked down Greenbrier East basketball coach Jim Justice and asked a few questions about the work of Greenbrier resort owner Jim Justice. One and the same man, of course.

    Justice talked about his pursuits of top talent for the Greenbrier Classic, both on the course and on the concert stage. As you may know, Kenny Chesney is your Fourth of July country act. You know somebody else big is going to play here - Springsteen? Justin Bieber?

    The latter would be a frightening prospect, coupled with a possible debut by Rickie Fowler. For starters, "The Bieb" and Fowler combined would supply one large quantity of hair. A truckload, maybe two.

    In a couple of trips to Columbus, I've seen the mob Fowler attracts and it's impressive. I'd call it Tiger-esque, only with dozens of pink-cased smartphones. You will see a spike in the girls 12-19 demographic, for sure.

    Classic officials might consider posting "No Squealing During Backswing" signs around Old White.

     

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    I put almost nothing past Justice when it comes to this golf tournament (Big Break Greenbrier was pretty cool, by the way). I'd bet on his landing Phil, Bubba and Rickie, and perhaps Tiger again. As for Rory McIlroy, I'll let others ask that question with wide eyes.

    I know good and well it's not happening.

    And not because he is the No. 1 player in the world, and has been for 24 consecutive weeks. Knowing his home country (Northern Ireland) and checking the European PGA Tour schedule, it's not a difficult conclusion.

    Schedule-wise, the Greenbrier Classic sits in a good position to attract Americans and Australians, who are really Floridians with funny accents. The Classic is three weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks before the Open Championship. The AT&T National, the week before in suburban Washington, seems to work in the Classic's favor. (More tradition with Tiger Woods sponsoring, yet an easy drive to White Sulphur Springs.)

    The Classic suffered two tradeoffs in moving to the Fourth of July. One was a loss of volunteers, though I figure that base will be rebuilt. The other was a great difficulty in attracting Europeans - the ones that did come in 2012 were more Americanized players such as Carl Pettersson. (Owner of my favorite golf nickname, the "Redneck Swede.")

    On the European Tour, the Irish Open comes a week before the Greenbrier. It carries a smaller purse than the corresponding stateside event, but there is zero chance McIlroy misses it.

    So would McIlroy, or any European for that matter, jet to America, play one tournament and jet back to prepare for the British? Bloody unlikely, even if Justice offered an Ulster-to-Lewisburg charter.

    I think.   

     

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    By the If you missed it, the Classic's purse has bumped from $6.1 million to $6.3 million. The winner's share shall be $1.134 million. That's more than 20 other PGA Tour stops this season, including the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.

    Just don't tell Jack Nicklaus.

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


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