HUNTINGTON - It's been a long time since there was this much realistic optimism surrounding the Marshall men's basketball program.
On season-opening Friday at the Cam Henderson Center, it didn't take long for the team, and in particular its defense, to show why.
It wasn't perfect early, but Marshall exploded offensively after the break and took care of Longwood 81-47, starting the 100th season of Thundering Herd basketball off on the right foot before a big visit to Villanova on Sunday. A crowd of 5,472 was on hand.
"Glad to get the game over with to be honest with you," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. "It was good to get most of our guys on the floor tonight. There were a lot of good things. For about 95 percent of the game I thought our 'D' was outstanding. We gave up some easy baskets late and that doesn't please me at all. I thought we were pretty dominant on the glass and offensively we finally settled in."
Marshall rolled up a 49-27 rebounding advantage and shot 56.3 percent from the floor in the second half while scoring 46 of its 81 points.
Friday was also the debut of a couple of promising junior-college transfers in D.D. Scarver and Elijah Pittman. While there were some nerves and a few hiccups, neither disappointed.
Scarver really got into his comfort zone after the break, tallying a co-game-high 18 points, including a stretch of three-consecutive 3-pointers that were part of a 25-4 run to open the second half. Pittman announced his presence early with a thunderous alley-oop dunk that lifted many a rear off the seats at the Henderson Center and finished with nine points and five rebounds.
While there were many good things to build on, there was plenty to correct as well.
Poor free-throw shooting, which was the bane of the Herd's existence last season, once again reared its ugly head early to the tune of 12 for 23 from the line in the first half. Take out DeAndre Kane's 6 for 10 and Scarver's 3 for 3 and that total gets even uglier.
It wasn't even a certainty that Kane or Nigel Spikes would play after both were held out of Marshall's exhibition win over Bluefield last week, but both started and scored 18 and 10 points, respectively.
Kane in particular was a steadying presence on offense in the first half. He scored a game-best 10 points in the opening 20 minutes and dished out four of his eight assists, accounting for all of the Herd's first-half helpers. He also blocked a game-high three shots.
"He plays at a great pace," Herrion said of Kane. "A lot of other guys, especially newer guys, play so fast because they're hyped up and their adrenaline is going. But DeAndre always seems to play at a great pace, that's how his game is. We spent a lot of time in the offseason moving him around at both guard positions and he showed that versatility tonight."
But while the offense fluctuated, the defense did its job, holding the Lancers to just 29.8 percent shooting and 13.3 percent from 3-point range while forcing 18 Lancer turnovers.
"Last year we were last in defense in a lot of categories," Kane said. "Before the game, coach put it on the board and stressed for us to lock down defensively and we did that."
At least part of the defensive output can be credited to Marshall's starting lineup.
By moving Dennis Tinnon (6-foot-8) to small forward, the Herd was able to roll out Robert Goff (6-9) and Spikes (6-10) at power forward and center, while keeping Scarver and Kane (each 6-4) in the backcourt. Add in substitutes like Jamir Hanner (6-8), Pittman (6-9), and Yous Mbao (7-2) and the result is a college roster with enough size to give anyone in the country headaches.
"We're not going to face too many teams in the Big South that have the size that Tommy has put together here," Longwood coach Mike Gillian said. "They're in for a tremendous season."
Spikes added a game-high nine rebounds, as did Goff.
The Thundering Herd and Wildcats will tip off at 1 p.m. Sunday and will be the first of several big tests in the nonconference slate for Marshall. The Herd will also host Morehead State and Cincinnati and will travel to Kentucky and Ohio this season.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pr...@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.
MARSHALL 81, LONGWOOD 47
Min FG FT R A P
Michael Kessens 30 2-5 7-10 5 0 11
Jeff Havenstein 23 0-0 0-0 2 0 0