Grit.

That’s what Jeremy Dillon brings to Marshall University’s basketball program.

Good ol’ fashioned, down and dirty, hard-nosed and hard-core, southern coalfield, West Virginia grit.

That just might be the truest grit there is.

And, yes, it’s written all over the square-jawed Dillon. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound redshirt freshman simply doesn’t take any prisoners. He didn’t do it when he was a Kennedy Award-winning quarterback for Mingo Central High School and he’s not doing it now at Marshall.

“Jeremy Dillon brings grit,” said Marshall coach Danny D’Antoni.

The veteran coach appreciates it, too. That’s why D’Antoni turned to Dillon in Marshall’s eventual 79-75 victory over Middle Tennessee Thursday night in the Murphy Center at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

With 5:21 remaining in the first half and the Thundering Herd trailing, 28-27, D’Antoni substituted Dillon into the game. The redshirt freshman immediately contributed one steal, one rebound and one assist.

And when the half ended?

Marshall was leading, 39-32, which meant Dillon did his job.

“Yeah, Coach just feels like he needs some grit out there on the court,” said Dillon, “So, that’s what I brought. Got some loose balls, rebounds.”

Dillon played well enough that D’Antoni decided to let him reprise his role in the second half. Dillon re-entered the game with 13:22 remaining and turned in a big play. He grabbed an offensive rebound in the lane, noticed teammate Jannson Williams spotted up at the 3-point line, rifled a pass to the right wing and watched as Williams swished the three.

When Dillon returned to the bench with 8:22 left to play, Marshall held a 52-46 lead.

So, for the night, Dillon finished with three rebounds (one offensive), two assists and two steals in 10:21 of playing time.

But his performance truly has to be measured in grit, not statistics.

“That’s just how I play,” he said with a grin. “Gritty and not give up an open shot. You talk about people having roles on the team. This year when I get in, I feel like that’s my role on the team. Get out there and play defense, get after loose balls and knockdown open shots.”

Actually, Middle Tennessee wasn’t Dillon’s first noteworthy performance. Instead, it occurred in Marshall’s 82-72 loss at Toledo.

“It felt pretty good,” recalled Dillon. “Coach just called me with five minutes left in the first half, I think. I got in there and got on my man.”

That’s an understatement.

D’Antoni put Dillon on Toledo’s Spencer Littleton defensively. If his name rings a bell, it might be because Littleton scorched Marshall for 27 points (6 for 8 on threes) in a 96-70 drubbing of the Herd earlier in the season at the Cam Henderson Center. But not this time.

“The dude I was guarding was the dude that killed us in the last game,” said Dillon. “He had seven or eight threes down here on our home court. He didn’t even get a shot off on me.”

Littleton scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting, including 1 for 4 on threes.

Don’t be surprised if D’Antoni brings him off the bench again when Marshall plays UAB at 3 p.m. Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Jeremy has steadily improved in practice and earned his minutes tonight, said D’Antoni on Thursday. “He made several hustle plays and a vision play lob to Marko (Sarenac) after a steal. It is fun watching him develop.”

Foes have to grit and bear it.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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