Chuck Landon: Why can't Marshall always play like this?
What if Marshall had played all 30 games like this one?
Imagine what the Herd's record would be. Imagine where Marshall would be ranked in Conference USA. Imagine what MU's post-season hopes would be.
Yes, what if Marshall had played all season like it did during a thrilling 88-84 win over Southern Miss Tuesday night before about 4,000 fans at the Henderson Center?
Indeed, what if?
"Our record would be a lot better," said senior center Nigel Spikes, answering the question with a smile bordering on chagrin. "But it takes some failure to realize how good you are.
"We've had a lot of lessons."
Seventeen, to be exact.
That's a lot of lessons -- not to mention a lot of losses -- for a team that was expected to have 20 wins by now.
That's what is so perplexing about this Marshall team. It can really, really play when it wants to perform.
Permit me to repeat that. ... when it wants to play.
When that's the case, the Herd can really shoot the ball (55.1 field goal percentage, 50.0 3-point percentage, 77.4 free throw percentage). When that's the case, the Herd can really defend with a mixture of man and zones. When that's the case, the Herd can really share the ball (20 assists on 27 field goals).
But only when that's the case.
When it's not, the Herd gets blown out by Houston, Ohio and these same Golden Eagles.
That's the exasperating part about this Marshall team. Everyone keeps giving up on the Herd, as evidenced by the poor crowd at Senior Night on Tuesday. Then, inexplicably, Marshall gives us a taste of what could have been.
The unfortunate part is Marshall has really, really wanted to play only five times this season.
There was the impressive early-season win over Nevada, 89-82. Then, there was the stunning 73-72 final seconds loss at Memphis. And don't forget the pair of wins over UCF -- 75-71 in the Henderson Center and a far more impressive 82-70 spanking at UCF.
Then, there came the piece de resistance.
A four-point win over a Donnie Tyndall-coached Southern Miss team that beat the Herd by 56 points on Jan. 23 in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Uh, folks, that is a 60-point turnaround.
So, what does Tyndall think about that? Sorry, we'll never know. In yet another breach of coaching etiquette, Tyndall didn't show up for his post-game press conference Tuesday.
It was rather reminiscent of Marshall's no-show at Southern Miss.
So, what happened to flip the switch in this on and off Marshall team?
"In practice," said Elijah Pittman, "we sat and talked to each other as one. Do we want to lose by 50 points or win? We talked to each other. And it showed."
Just ask Spikes.
Actually, nobody had to do that.
"I told you all we can play," volunteered the senior center. "We can play with the best of them.
"The main thing is we played defense. We played hard. We played as a team. We shared the ball. When we do all that, we can play."
Marshall has proven that fact five times this season. The problem is those other 25 games that produced 17 defeats.
So, what can Marshall's fans anticipate in the season finale at East Carolina Saturday and, then, the Conference USA Tournament in Tulsa, Okla., on March-13-16?
Nobody knows. Not the fans, not Marshall coach Tom Herrion and not even the players.
It is anybody's guess.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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