Herd opens C-USA play
HUNTINGTON -- It's only about 80 miles from Athens, Ohio, back to the Marshall University campus, but the bus ride home Saturday seemed a lot longer to the Thundering Herd men's basketball team.
Ohio had smashed Marshall by 37 points and everyone needed a lift.
Junior guard Dre Kane tried to provide one.
"The whole bus ride back I was talking to the team," Kane said. "When we got back I was calling them. Telling them don't duck your heads. We'll be all right."
Marshall's record slumped to 7-8 in its final non-conference game.
A new season begins at 7 p.m., Wednesday, when the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (9-6, 1-0) plays Marshall in its Conference USA opener in Cam Henderson Center. Tulsa got its conference season going Sunday with a 48-47 victory at SMU (10-6, 0-1).
"We've got a fresh start, a new slate," Marshall head coach Tom Herrion said. "Our goal and task is to be 1-0 at 9 o'clock Wednesday night. We have more games left than we've played. We have many, many opportunities left."
Kane entered the Ohio game in the first minute and played for 20 minutes in his first appearance after missing four games because of a hand injury.
He's averaging 14.2 points and his 7.9 assists per game would rank fourth in the nation if he had enough games played to qualify for the NCAA statistics.
The NCAA requirement is playing in 75 percent of a team's games to be listed.
Maybe more than that, though, the preseason all-conference selection provides a dose of leadership the team missed in a three-game losing skid.
"It's still broken," Kane said about his right (shooting) hand. "It hurts. It's swollen. My team needed me. If my team needs me I'm going to do whatever it takes to get back out there."
Getting Kane back to 100 percent healthy and back up to speed with his game is a priority, Herrion said.
Junior forward Elijah Pittman's 14.5 scoring average leads the team, followed by Kane, junior wing guard D.D. Scarver (14.1) and senior forward Dennis Tinnon (10.7). Tinnon's 9.3 rebounds a game are the team high and senior center Nigel Spikes gets 8.7.
Marshall is also bringing 7-foot-2 junior Yous Mbao back from a head injury he sustained Nov. 20 in a practice collision with teammate Rob Goff. Mbao was in uniform for the Ohio game and will resume his backup role soon.
Kane is playing with a protective pad on his hand while Mbao wears a padded headgear.
To make a run in the conference Marshall needs to improve its 41.5 percent field goal shooting that ranks 11th in the 12-team league and get better at the free throw line where it's last in C-USA and nearly last in the nation at 57.9 percent.
Turnovers -- 26 in the game at Ohio and an average of 15.8 per game -- are another problem being addressed. Kane's presence should help with that.
The last time the teams met in the 2012 C-USA tournament quarterfinals Kane's 40 points carried the Herd to a 105-100 three-overtime victory.
First-season Tulsa head coach Danny Manning was matched against his mentor, first-season SMU head coach Larry Brown on Sunday. Manning was the star player at Kansas University in 1988 when Brown guided the Jayhawks to the national championship.
It was just the second matchup of the NCAA Final Four's most outstanding player and the winning coach.
Manning described Sunday's game as a tale of two halves. Pat Swilling Jr., the son of a former NFL linebacker, ripped the net for five 3-point baskets and 15 points as Tulsa built a 34-17 advantage.
"Swilling and (Scottie) Haralson change games with their ability to make shots," Herrion said.
The Golden Hurricane had six turnovers at halftime and 13 in the second half when they scored only six points in the first 15 minutes as the Mustangs moved into a four-point lead with 32 seconds remaining.
Haralson (10 points) made a 3-point shot with 24 seconds left before Swilling connected on the game-winner.
Tulsa freshman guard James Woodard scores 13.7 a game. Swilling, a junior guard, adds 10.9 and Haralson, a senior 3-point shooter, scores 9.8.
The 6-4 Woodard is Tulsa's leading rebounder with 6.3 a game.
Woodard is the early favorite for conference freshman of the year, Herrion said.