Chuck Landon: MU fans search for reason to believe
Was it a fluke?
Was it an aberration?
Was it a bolt of basketball lightning in a bottle?
That's what everyone is wondering about Marshall's dominating 82-70 win over UCF in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday night.
The shooting, the rebounding, the defense, the passing, the execution and the physical toughness that the Thundering Herd displayed against the arch-rival Knights was the sort of performance fans expected to see from this talented Marshall team all season.
Instead, it didn't happen until Game No. 27.
That's why no one is quite sure what to think now.
Herd fans would love to believe Marshall finally has put all the pieces together. They would love to believe the Herd is going to turn this disappointing year around and end the regular season on a roll. They would love to believe the UCF game was a linch-pin victory.
But they're afraid to believe that.
Marshall's fans balance their high expectations coming into this season against the Herd's 12-15 record and their faith wavers.
That's why Marshall's game against UAB at 7 p.m., Saturday, in the Henderson Center has taken on greater importance. Herd fans want to see if this inconsistent team actually can put together consecutive good performances.
This is a "show me" game tonight.
"I understand human nature is to think that way," said Tom Herrion, Marshall's third-year coach. "I don't know. I'm just happy we played to our potential.
"We had a lot of guys play well on the same night. That's what we have missed throughout the course of the season. But instead of thinking about this is the way we should have played all season, I'm more worried about us playing the same way this Saturday as we did on Wednesday."
Just like the fans, Herrion would like to think the UCF victory wasn't merely the planets aligning perfectly for one cosmic performance.
"I'd like to think not," he said. "That's our goal, our objective, our challenge as a coaching staff and as players that we can simulate that or have that be more of the norm as we head down the stretch.
"I know it's coach adage and coach talk, but every team in the country wants to be playing their best basketball the last couple of weeks. And we're no different. No matter what your record is right now, you want to be playing your best basketball coming down the stretch."
Marshall has only four regular-season games remaining, including at home against UAB, at Houston on March 2, home to Southern Miss on March 5 and at East Carolina on March 9. So, it would be nice to believe the UCF victory was the kind of "turn the corner" performance that could key a late-season run.
"You would hope, you would hope, you would hope," said Herrion in his usual fast-talking, staccato style. "But you have to come in every day and build on that game and remember and understand what ingredients led to that success.
"You can't control making and missing shots every night out, but our energy level, our unselfish, our execution and just our overall toughness and grit. ... those are the things that have to be more of a staple for us down the stretch.
"And that's what I'm looking for."
Actually, that's what everyone is looking for.
Herd fans just want a reason to believe in this team.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.