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Chuck Landon: Herd sharpens its defense against Nevada

Nov. 25, 2012 @ 12:04 AM

People probably think Marshall's basketball players dined on turkey this week.

Guess again, cranberry breath.

The Herd ate defense. And slept defense. And drank defense.

It showed, too, during Marshall's 89-82 win over a good Nevada club Saturday night before 5,583 fans at the Henderson Center.

After playing little to no defense in consecutive losses to South Dakota State and Hofstra last weekend, it is safe to say defense was emphasized this week in practice.

That and breathing.

The two were synonymous.

Right, Elijah Pittman?

"It was a test on defense tonight," said the 6-foot-9 junior college transfer. "We wanted to show people we can guard."

Especially one particular person.

His name is Tom Herrion.

And please make note of what you are about to read. Herrion, the third-year Marshall basketball coach who tends to be a defensive perfectionist, was pleased.

Well, halfway at least.

That's a pretty darned good start this early in a season.

"Our defense in the first half was great," said Herrion. "That might have been the best 20 minutes of defense we've played here. We didn't sustain it, bu. ..."

One step at a time.

And the defense Marshall played against this sweet-shooting, offensive savvy Nevada club was a giant step forward defensively.

It showed just 2:35 into the game when Nigel Spikes and Pittman trapped a Nevada ball-handler on Marshall's sideline near the corner. That created a turnover and an intense reaction from the emotional Herrion, who pumped his fist in appreciation.

That trap and that particular turnover set the tone for the rest of the first half.

"We locked in," said Herrion. "We took them out of anything they wanted to run. We bottled them up. We took them out of any of their options."

The result was only 24 points on 7-for-23 shooting (.304) for Nevada in the first half.

Imagine what probably would have happened if Marshall had played that brand of defense against Villanova, UDC, South Dakota State and Hofstra.

Instead of having a 3-3 record, the Herd most likely would be 6-0. It would have made that much difference.

"Tonight our defense was really good," said center Nigel Spikes, after grabbing 14 rebounds, scoring seven points and blocking two shots. "We talked a lot more on defense. And we were very physical.

"We really picked it up tonight. And it really paid off for us. That was the key."

It will pay off every night.

That is the mantra Rev. Herrion preaches every day in practice. Defense and rebounding, amen.

It's his gospel.

And the Herd showed why Saturday night.

"It's what we talked about wanting to be," said Herrion. "When we defend like that and rebound like that, we're pretty good."

Of course, a very nice holiday crowd played a role, too.

"The Herd nation stepped up," acknowledged Herrion. "Sadly, emotion plays a big role in defense. It energizes the players. The crowd helps.

"But we were locked in. We were focused. We were so quick to the ball. And so good with the rotation."

Then, of course, the other sneaker invariably was dropped.

"We just have to sustain it for more than 20 minutes," added Herrion.

That is coaching fodder for another day.

For now, just enjoy Marshall playing the brand of defense Herrion wants for one half at a time. It was important progress. It is what needed to happen.

In fact, I think the Herd deserves a day off.

"I don't have to give them a day off," said Herrion, "but I'm going to."

Good move, coach.

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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