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Chuck Landon: For Herrion, beating So. Miss was in his zone

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 12:33 AM

Tom Herrion really wanted this game.

I mean, really, really wanted it.

Think Marshall's proud head basketball coach had forgotten the indignity of Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall running up the score and beating Herrion by 56 points in the most lopsided game in Conference USA history?

Not a chance.

"I remember," said Herrion curtly with a tight-lipped smile. "I remember."

Any coach worth his competitive salt would.

Herrion remembered so vividly and wanted retribution so fervently, he even was willing to abandon a coaching principle he staunchly believes in with every fiber of his profession.

He played zone defense.

Stop the presses!

And I don't mean full-court.

Never in Herrion's three seasons at Marshall and, perhaps, never in his head coaching career had he started a game in a zone defense. But he did against Southern Miss. That was a dead giveaway of how much Herrion wanted to win this game.

And it was a key component.

Marshall started out in a 2-3 matchup zone with a huge lineup of 6-foot-10 Nigel Spikes, 6-9 Elijah Pittman, 6-9 Rob Goff, 6-8 Dennis Tinnon and 6-4 DeAndre Kane.

That big zone was a big surprise, too.

"The zone was good to us for a while," said Herrion after the satisfying 88-84 win over Southern Miss Tuesday night at the Henderson Center. "But they figured it out."

So, Herrion did something else unusual. He changed defenses. First, Herrion switched back to his customary man-to-man. But, then, he pulled another defensive Bugs Bunny out of his coaching hat.

Herrion went to a zone that suspiciously resembled a 1-3-1.

"Well, it's really not a 1-3-1," said Herrion. "That's our zone. It does look like a 1-3-1 because our big man drops to the baseline. He doesn't play the high post like in a 1-3-1. We made some adjustments in it to start the game and, then, they made some adjustments. We shifted some guys around."

That morphed the zone into a different look.

"Correct," said Herrion. "We matched up a little bit out of it. We thought we had a good feel for four or five of their actions against that zone. Then they went to some stuff that we hadn't seen and that really bothered us."

So, again, he changed defenses.

After starting in a 2-3 matchup zone, switching to man-to-man and showing a 1-3-1 look, Marshall used a personnel grouping that utilized principles of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's well known "amoeba" defense.

"We tried to matchup some," said Herrion. "We've played it before during this season, but not in abundance. We never started a game in it, though. I thought we caught them a little off-guard."

You think?

Tom Herrion playing zone would catch any opponent by surprise.

"We've played more zone this year than we ever have," he said. "But, still, to all the pundits out there, not enough. Tonight they got their taste. They'd better be satisfied with the amount of zone I played tonight."

The pain clearly showed in Herrion's face.

After all, he is a man-to-man disciple.

"I am, I am," he conceded. "It goes against my core principles to play zone."

But losing to a coach and opponent that ran up the score on him goes against Herrion's principles as a man.

So, he did what he had to do.

He played zone and lots of it.

That's how much Tom Herrion wanted to win this game.

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

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