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Chuck Landon: Either beat Tulane, or season runs off the rails

Jan. 31, 2012 @ 11:35 PM

This is the day.

The day when Marshall's struggling basketball team proves that it is capable of approaching its potential or falls by the wayside as just another underachieving ballclub.

This is the day.

The day when a four-game skid has to end after a lack-of-toughness loss to West Virginia University, a narrow defeat to Southern Miss thanks to woeful shot selection in the final minute, an unpardonable loss at home to UAB and a tough defeat at Memphis because of a season-long problem with turnovers.

This is the day.

The day when Marshall shows whether it's a bona fide post-season contender for the only tournaments that matter -- NCAA or NIT -- or just another entry in a pay-for-play, write-a-check tourney such as the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT).

This is the day.

The day when a mere win over Tulane (14-7 overall, 2-5 Conference USA) at 7 p.m., Wednesday, in the Henderson Center won't be enough. If Marshall (13-8, 4-3) is indeed going to reach the level of success it aspires to, the Herd has to defeat the Green Wave decidedly tonight.

Nothing else will be good enough.

And if that doesn't happen?

Then, it's time to push the button. Everybody knows which one. The big, green-colored button in the Henderson Center with the letters P-A-N-I-C written graphically on it.

It's the button Tom Herrion doesn't think exists.

"This group has a sense of. ... poise, confidence," said Marshall's second-year head coach two and a half weeks ago just prior to the beginning of the four-game losing streak. "There's not a panic button.

"We had it last year a lot. We'd splinter. We could panic. There's not a sense of panic and we've had it pretty much all year. We've been in a lot of different environments, home and away, and I think that's a testament to growing, becoming more mature and having some leadership from some older guys."

Since then, there has been some splintering, if not panic. Marshall obviously lost its way during back-to-back horrendous halves against WVU and Southern Miss. Then, there was the across-the-board, utter meltdown offensively in the UAB loss.

That leads us to the 83-76 loss at Memphis. And, yes, the Herd's much-improved performance last Saturday was encouraging. Yet, at the same time, a pair of distinct difficulties surfaced.

The new problem is defending a talented post player. It's one thing for UAB's 6-foot-10 Cameron Moore to score 21 points with ease against Marshall. After all, Moore was the preseason choice for C-USA Player of the Year for a reason.

But it's an entirely different matter when Memphis 6-8 sophomore Tarik Black, who came into the game averaging 9.8 points, scores a season-high 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the floor.

Marshall's post defenders simply can't afford to always play behind their man and allow uncontested entry passes. That's what happened against Memphis.

The old problem is turnovers. Marshall committed 14 against Memphis, including three on consecutive possessions. Memphis scored seven points off those three straight turnovers and that decided the game.

These two problems have to be solved. The splintering has to subside. The offensive resurgence against Memphis has to continue. The listing ship has to be righted.

This is the day.

The day when Marshall decides its fate.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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