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Herd looking for better effort vs. Tulane

TULSA, Okla. - Oh yes, it is a new season for Marshall's basketball team. Tonight, that team had better turn in a new effort against Tulane.

The old one will not do. A repeat will signal the end of the Thundering Herd's difficult season by halftime.

Marshall begins its campaign to ease the memory of 18 losses, some more dismal than others, when it battles the Green Wave tonight in the first round of the Conference USA tournament at the BOK Center. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. EDT.

In New Orleans on Feb. 6, the Herd lost 91-75. It was the fifth-largest margin among MU's 18 defeats, but it rated higher in the stink-it-up scale.

To hear a few tales, it ranked down there with that 102-46 thing at Southern Mississippi.

"We were so bad. That's stating the obvious," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "Give them credit, we've got to play them at a more highly competitive level in nature defensively. I thought we got pushed around, I thought they were more physical than us. We had a stretch at the end of the first half where the game got away from us."

You could say that. The Green Wave went on a 19-3 run in the final five minutes, after taking an eight-point lead to begin with. By the time the humbled-again Herd fled the Devlin Fieldhouse court at halftime, the count was 59-35.

"We let those guys do whatever they wanted," said senior forward Dennis Tinnon. "We let them get open 3s, and they penetrated so much. From 'one' to 'five,' we did a terrible job."

In that first half, the Green Wave hit half its field goals and half its 16 3-point tries, and its dynamic trio of Josh Davis, Ricky Tarrant and Jordan Callahan tore the Herd up - Tarrant 14 points, Callahan 12 points on four 3-pointers and Davis 13 points and eight rebounds.

If you really care, Davis finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, one of nine double-doubles yielded by the Herd this season.

That helped Davis average a double-double on the season, 17.5 points and a league-high 10.3 rebounds, numbers that got him picked for the first unit of the All-Conference USA team.

It's not out of the question for him to be named conference player of the year, which is unveiled today.

"My junior year, he wasn't half the player he [is now]," Tinnon said. "He didn't do those type of things. We played them and we beat them, but he was a totally different player. I don't know if he was a role player, he had to play his position or whatever.

"But this year he's more of a scorer, he looks to attack the basket. He can handle the ball really well, he can rebound, score on the low post. The only thing he [doesn't do], he never shoots 3s [1 of 2 for the season]. The only thing he's capable of doing is driving. He can hit a 15-, 17-foot jumper, but his first thought is to drive, score a bucket and get an 'and one,' whatever."

Some problems in that game persisted through the end of the season. The Herd is worst in C-USA in league play in guarding the 3-pointer (39.4 percent), yielding 29 baskets in 58 attempts over the last three games. It's no coincidence that those three opponents - Houston, Southern Miss and East Carolina - averaged 87.7 points.

The Herd's offense has shown hints of the explosiveness expected before the season. It has shot 50 percent or better three times in the last seven games, and went 49.2 percent in the 86-79 loss last weekend at ECU. MU hit an even 10 of 20 from 3-pointer range in the win over Southern Miss a week ago.

"We're playing well offensively right now," Herrion said. "Our execution, our shot selection has been really good."

And get this: The Herd is shooting free throws without all that clanking noise.

Really. The team is 59 of 78, 75.6 percent, over the last three games. Its level in league play is actually 61.2 percent - unthinkable in those two January performances of 43.5 percent.

"As painful as it has been at times at the beginning of the season, the kids have done a good job staying with it, working on it," Herrion said. "The staff's done a good job trying to help guys make some adjustments when needed. They're shooting with a lot more confidence right now."

Playing as a ninth seed against a No. 8 in Tulane, the Herd needs all the confidence it can muster, and needs it from the opening tip. Success gets MU a 7 p.m. game Thursday against top seed Memphis; a loss ...

You can't think about it in the "new season," a speech Herrion has given a few times.

"So has 300 or so coaches in the country," the Herd coach said. "Every team going to Tulsa in our league, and tournaments going on or have gone on, we're seeing that. We're seeing it already."

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


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