HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Whether Marshall can build any momentum off its road victory last weekend will largely be determined on the boards.
More precisely, whether the Thundering Herd keeps from getting splattered on said boards.
Coming off its win last weekend at Charlotte, the Herd takes on a big, physical team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham at 7 tonight. The Blazers bring hefty rebounding credentials to Cam Henderson Center.
"The rebounding margin is astronomical," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "They're rebounding at a lot of positions; they've got great size across the board."
That margin is plus-8.8 in all games, though just plus-3.3 in Conference USA play. The Blazers lead the conference in offensive rebounds (15.36 per game) and are second in offensive rebounding percentage (.376), also in league play.
Consider this: The Blazers have outrebounded opponents 20 times in their 25 games.
You can see the size in their veteran-loaded lineup: Six-foot-4 guards Chad Frazier and Robert Williams, 6-5 forward Rod Rucker, 6-8 forward C.J. Washington 6-10, 250-pound Fahro Alihodzic. Sixth-man Jordan Swing (yes, he's a swingman) is not short at 6-6.
The Herd struggled to some degree underneath in its 59-56 win Saturday over Charlotte, getting outrebounded 48-35 overall, 21-10 on the offensive glass. One 49er, Willie Clayton collected 16 rebounds, the second-highest number for a Herd foe this season. But that didn't crush the Herd. UAB might, if the effort is not there.
"We've tried to pop it into their heads that if we don't rebound, we minimize our opportunities very much," Herrion said. "We going to have to really, really put bodies on people."
The buzz around freshman Chris Thomas is getting louder. He now has a season-high six consecutive double-digit scoring games, including 21 and 18 against Tulane and Charlotte. He is averaging 16.2 points over the stretch.
Sure, he has 19 double-digit games this season and set his career high with 27 points way back in November against Western Kentucky. But he has grown since then.
For starters, he is 40 of 73 from the floor in the last six games, a 54.8 percent clip. That's a tribute to his ability to be more selective and then more confident when he drives to the basket. But now he is showing the courage to trigger scoring runs, such as the 8-0 explosion he had in Charlotte. His personal 8-0 run in the first half not only sliced into an 11-point deficit, but also knocked the 49ers back on their heels defensively.
It was a sight to behold.
"In transition, one-on-four, nobody can stop him," said point guard Kareem Canty. "In the halfcourt, he's picking his spots better, he's not settling for jumpers. He's not a jump-shooter, he's a scorer."