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Landon: Whiteside lets down in the CIT

Mar. 17, 2010 @ 12:46 AM

Marshall came down with a dose of the NIT flu.

The 24-hour kind?

Nope, the 20-minute kind.

For the entire first half of the Herd’s eventual 90-88 win over Western Carolina in first-round action of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament before 5,003 fans at the Henderson Center, Marshall played with no energy, no emotion, no intensity and lots of lethargy.

“Yeah, it was the NIT flu,” said Herd point guard Damier Pitts.

And I know just where the Herd caught it.

From Hassan Whiteside.

Marshall’s 7-0 freshman center also had a 20-minute version of the flu Monday, sauntering into practice approximately 20 minutes late. Besides getting kicked out of practice Monday for his tardiness, Whiteside was taken out of the starting lineup Tuesday.

Although his 23-game starting streak ended, Whiteside did enter the game with 15:39 remaining in the first half.

Yet, he never was really into the game. In the game? Yes. Into the game? No.

Whiteside appeared so lackadaisical, so disinterested several Marshall fans yelled for him to give some effort.

It never happened.

Mercifully, Marshall coach Donnie Jones pulled Whiteside from the game with 13:47 remaining never to return.

That move won the game for Marshall.

Tirrell Baines replaced Whiteside and the Herd immediately went on a 22-8 run with a lineup that included such players as Pitts, Dago Pena, Antonio Haymon and Darryl Merthie.

Whiteside finished with only three points on 1-for-1 shooting, five rebounds and five blocked shots in 16 minutes. That’s far below his seasonal averages of 13.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and a nation-leading 5.4 blocked shots.

That’s why even Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter, who never had laid eyes on Whiteside, realized something was amiss.

“Donnie’s got a special player whose head was going a lot of different directions it appears,” said Hunter. “That’s a tough one to deal with, but I have respect for what he’s doing.

“But above all it’s got to be about the team. You’ve got to be on-board with where you are at that particular time and totally committed to that. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out.

“If that’s the case, you’ve got to draw the line or you are going to lose your other guys.”
Which leads us to Jones’ new mission.

In the next five days, Jones has to find a way to get Whiteside’s head back on straight before Marshall’s next CIT game against a yet-to-be-determined opponent on Monday at the Henderson Center.

“Hassan has done a lot of great things for our program,” said Jones, who also is trying to convince Whiteside not to leave after only one year for the NBA Draft.

“But he’s still just a freshman. And sometimes freshmen hit the wall. He’s still growing. He’s still learning. We’ve got to get him ready for our next game on Monday.”

The rest of Marshall’s players seem to have learned their lesson.

“We really didn’t have any energy in the beginning,” said Pitts, after scoring a game-high 24 points, mostly on 15-for-16 foul-shooting. “We were thinking we should be playing in the NIT.

“And, yeah, we should have made it. But we’re OK now. We’re ready to play now. We needed to get that half out of our system.”

Maybe showing Whiteside they can win without him will repair the rift. Maybe not.

We’ll find out Monday.

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

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