HUNTINGTON — As Marshall came out for the second half of Thursday night’s battle with Robert Morris, sophomore guard Taevion Kinsey repeated one word to his teammates.
“Energy! Energy! Energy,” Kinsey said as the half got ready to start.
While execution slipped at times, the energy never wavered and Marshall used it on both ends late to start an 11-2 run that led to a 67-60 win over Robert Morris in front of 5,530 fans at Cam Henderson Center.
“I thought we made some big plays when we had to,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said.
“Any win is hard-earned — especially when you are playing a tough team. That was a (CIT) tournament team last year.”
West finished with 20 points to lead the Thundering Herd (1-0), while Kinsey scored 12 points and five assists. Mikel Beyers added 11 points as well.
For the last few years, Marshall’s strength has been its offensive presence, but on Thursday, the Herd showed a defensive side that could very well be the team’s identity as the 2019-20 season gets underway. In the final 4:29 of action, Marshall allowed just one field goal — a backside tip-in off a missed shot — to flip the game in its favor.
During that stretch, Marshall forced four turnovers and got a pair of blocks by Marko Sarenac — the final of which came off a backcourt turnover by the Herd in the final 35 seconds that could’ve cut the advantage to one score. Instead, Sarenac’s backside block led to a pair of free throws by West that all but cemented the game for Marshall.
“The mascot (Marko) made a couple of big plays defensively getting a couple tips on balls in there and I thought Jarrod pressured the ball the whole night,” D’Antoni said.
Robert Morris head coach Andrew Toole said his team wanted several possessions back in that final five-minute stretch that turned a slim lead for the Colonials into a win for the Herd.
“I thought we did a lot of good things — obviously, not enough to win,” Toole said. “Some of the possessions down the stretch, I think our guys would like to have back. Maybe the ability to make better decisions with the ball or be stronger with the ball, but you’ve got to credit Marshall. They really raised their defensive intensity down the stretch.”
Late in the second half, much of Marshall’s defensive success came from denying the ball to Robert Morris leading scorer Josh Williams behind the efforts of Kinsey.
After being limited early, Williams got hot early in the second half, hitting a 3-pointer with 9:32 left in the game that gave Robert Morris its biggest advantage at 51-47. Those were Williams’ final points of the game. He ended with 13 points on 4 of 14 shooting.
“They did a great job with Kinsey getting up and denying him, and it was just so foolish by us. ...,” Toole said. “Those are some of the things that can be really frustrating as you go through the course of the year — knowing a guy is going to be a focal point and not being able to make the adjustments necessary to get him at least to start the offense and get the offense initiated.”
Early in the second half, the shooting of Williams combined with Marshall’s struggles on offense to help Robert Morris overcome what had been a 12-point first-half deficit.
Marshall’s advantage had built to 28-16 during a 14-3 run in which West scored six points and Kinsey had five.
With Marshall having a size advantage over Robert Morris’ guard-oriented lineup, the Colonials looked to take away the Herd’s post presences in Iran Bennett and Goran Miladinovic by fronting the post. That allowed West and Kinsey to see what the defense was doing and attack the rim.
“You can’t come down and predetermine what you’re going to do,” West said. “With the flow of our offense, it’s a lot about reads and seeing stuff. I thought I had a couple seams early on to get me going.”
While there were spurts of offensive strength, D’Antoni said his team has a long way to go to find its rhythm.
Marshall finished just four of 20 from 3-point range and also had 16 turnovers with 11 assists on the night.
“Offensively, we’ve got some work to do, obviously, but that’s a good team,” D’Antoni said. “They play hard. That’s a tough opening night because they’re well-coached, veteran guards.”
Yannis Mendy led Robert Morris with 14 points, many of which came on five offensive rebounds.
Marshall gets back to work on Friday in preparation for Sunday’s 2 p.m. contest against Toledo at the Cam Henderson Center.