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Chuck Landon: MU fails to capitalize on size in narrow win

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Marshall's game against down-trodden Rice wasn't supposed to be close.

And it shouldn't have been.

The Owls are 5-19 overall, 1-9 in Conference USA and their RPI ranking is No. 304 out of 347 NCAA Division I schools.

Rice is bad.

So bad, in the Owls' previous game they scored only 39 points on 19.6 percent field-goal shooting during a 22-point loss to SMU.

If Uncle Ben's would have sponsored a college basketball program this Rice team would have been the result. Short, bland and led by "Little Ben."

Yet, Rice actually led, 61-60, with 3:53 remaining before finally running out of time in a closer-than-anyone-imagined 71-70 loss to Marshall on Wednesday before 5,308 quiet fans in the Henderson Center.

So, why was it so alarmingly close? And why oh why didn't the Herd blow the Owls off the court?

It's because Marshall didn't take advantage of its advantage.

Namely, size.

Rice is the shortest team in C-USA and Marshall is the tallest.

Just breakdown the starters by height and Marshall had a 23-inch advantage, which averaged to 4.6 inches per man.

The 6-foot-10 Nigel Spikes had three inches on 6-7 Ross Wilson. Elijah, Pittman, 6-9, was five inches taller than 6-4 Julian DeBose. Dennis Tinnon, 6-8, had five inches on 6-3 Austin Ramljak. D.D. Scarver, 6-4, had a whopping nine inches on 5-7 Max Guercy. And DeAndre Kane, 6-4, was an inch taller than 6-3 Tamir Jackson.

Yet, did Marshall patiently hammer the ball inside against under-sized Rice's 2-3 and 3-2 zones?

No.

The Herd refused to play to its obvious advantage. Instead, Marshall evened the size differential by practically matching Rice 3-pointer for 3-pointer.

The Owls were 9-for-27 from behind the arc, while Marshall was 7 of 21.

The difference is Rice has to shoot threes.

The Owls don't have a choice. That's why they lead C-USA in both 3-point attempts and 3-point field goals.

But Marshall does have a choice with a front line standing 6-10, 6-9 and 6-8.

Instead, the Herd chose to bomb away from 3-point range. Simply put, Marshall settled. The Herd took easy threes instead of working to get the ball inside.

That's why Marshall nearly lost despite having the biggest size advantage it ever has enjoyed in a C-USA game.

Yet, look what happened when Marshall did take shots inside the 3-point arc. The Herd was 16 of 24 on 2-pointers for a whopping 66.7 shooting percentage.

Now, compare those numbers to MU's 7 of 21 on threes for 33.3 percent shooting.

Not surprising, Marshall was exactly twice as successful on 2-point attempts.

"When we did start going inside it got us started a little bit," said Spikes, referring to a stretch where Marshall went from trailing by three points to leading by three. "It got us to the foul line."

Yet, Pittman, who has launched 40 threes in Marshall's last five games, defended the propensity of long-range shots.

"We had good looks," said Pittman. "If we have good looks we are going to take the threes."

Maybe I would be willing to accept that rationale in a normal game situation. But not when Marshall enjoyed the huge height advantage it had against Rice.

"At the end," Owls coach Ben Braun, "their size advantage was really a factor."

It should have been a factor from the opening tip.

"They couldn't matchup with us size-wise," admitted Kane. "It should have been a better played game by us."

That's about the size of it.

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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