Thundering Herd senses urgency
ATHENS, Ohio -- Nigel Spikes considers Marshall's Thundering Herd to be at a critical point of the men's basketball season.
Marshall (7-7) plays the Ohio Bobcats (8-5) at 2 p.m., Saturday, in the 13,080-seat Convocation Center with one final opportunity to get its game in shape before the Conference USA schedule begins.
The Herd opens the conference season Wednesday against Tulsa in Cam Henderson Center.
"Nothing else matters," Spikes said Friday before the team bused to Athens. "It's now or never."
It's the 100th meeting between schools roughly 80 miles apart that have been playing basketball games since 1921. The Bobcats lead the all-time series 53-46 and won the last two meetings that were both played in Huntington -- 2011 CollegeInsider.com Tournament (65-64) and 70-68 last season. Marshall came out ahead the last time they played in Athens, 65-57 on Dec. 4, 2010.
Spikes is hoping Marshall goes into The Convo with a good attitude coming off a disappointing Wednesday performance at home in a 53-51 loss to Delaware State.
"We had a bounce-back practice (Thursday)," he said. "We had a little sense of desperation."
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Spikes averages 6.8 points, is ranked 44th in the nation for rebounds with 9.1 per game and has 16 blocked shots.
He can be a force in the lane, as 15 of his 31 field goals were dunks.
Two seasons ago, the senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had a career-best 19 rebounds in the CIT loss to the Bobcats.
"It just happened," he said. "I didn't know I had 19 rebounds until after the game."
Marshall has lost to West Virginia, Cincinnati and Kentucky in a skid of four defeats in its last six games. Ohio is another strong opponent, and Spikes said that's how he wants it.
Spikes used a comparison to C-USA rival Southern Miss, which played its final non-conference game Thursday and belted Dillard, an NAIA school from New Orleans, 135-41. The Golden Eagles set C-USA records for points, field goals (51), assists (40) and steals (27).
He said going against weak competition doesn't really help a team improve.
Marshall's problem has been offensive inefficiency for a team making only 41.9 percent of its field goal attempts, shooting 58.7 percent from the foul line and committing 15.1 turnovers on average.
The Herd defense was good enough to win some of the games it lost.
"It's (about) being solid, being smart, being efficient -- which we haven't been," head coach Tom Herrion said.
Herd scoring leader Dre Kane (15.0) also averages 8.5 assists, but missed the last four games because of a right hand injury. The All-CUSA junior guard is back for practices, but his playing availability is still being evaluated. He remains a day-to-day decision.
Junior forward Elijah Pittman and junior wing guard D.D. Scarver have been consistent scorers at 14.9 and 14.1 a game respectively. Senior forward Dennis Tinnon averages 11.2 points and 9.0 rebounds.
Ohio was an NCAA Sweet 16 team last season and lost head coach John Groce to the University of Illinois. New coach Jim Christian was lured back to the Mid-American Conference from TCU. Christian coached at Kent State six seasons from 2003 to 2008 when the Golden Flashes made five postseason appearances.
Christian's teams at Kent State posted a 6-1 record against Marshall.
Herrion's former team at College of Charleston won at Kent State in the 2003 National Invitation Tournament, his only meeting with Christian.
D.J. Cooper is a do-everything guard for Ohio averaging 14.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.7 steals.The 6-foot senior from Chicago is Ohio's career leader in assists (794) and steals (281) while ranking fifth in points (1,781).
'"Cooper impacts the game in so many different ways," Herrion said. "He can score 30, he can get a dozen assists. He's under-appreciated as a defender."
Walter Offutt is a 6-4 senior guard who began his career at Ohio State scoring 11.9 a game.
Ohio also gets points from 6-9 senior Reggie Keely (9.4), 6-9 senior Ivo Baltic (9.2) and 6-3 junior Nick Kellogg (8.5).
Kellogg, the son of CBS basketball analyst Clark Kellogg, is one of the top 3-point gunners (37.7 percent) on a team that averages about nine 3-pointers in 24 attempts per game.
Missouri transfer Kadeem Green, a 6-8 sophomore post player, joined the Bobcats at semester break. In four games he has averaged 5.5 points and 2.0 rebounds.