HUNTINGTON — While Marshall’s players were happy with Thursday’s win over Southern Miss, Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni was a bit more guarded with compliments of his team after the 72-58 win.
D’Antoni laughed when trying to find the words to describe the victory over the Golden Eagles — one that featured many runs by each team, with the last coming from the Herd.
“Well, we played, at best, I guess you could call it erratically,” D’Antoni said. “We have these long periods where we play really well — we’d get a 12-point lead — and then we’d come down and just do some, I guess, some young team mistakes.”
D’Antoni said those mistakes are keeping teams in games, which he feels should not have been the case Thursday after the Herd built a 14-point first-half lead, only to see Southern Miss use a pair of runs to take its own 7-point lead before the Herd rallied.
While the Herd’s play may have been up-and-down, D’Antoni said the effort and energy was consistent.
“I’m still proud of the kids,” D’Antoni said. “The one good thing about it — they are not erratic in their efforts. They give you 100%, so there’s not a whole lot I can say.”
That consistency in effort — especially on the defensive end — will be needed at 7 p.m. Saturday as the Herd takes on a talented Louisiana Tech team that is among the best in Conference USA at Cam Henderson Center.
For Marshall, the philosophy going into Saturday is simple: The Herd has to bulldog the Bulldogs.
That means tough defense in transition and one-on-one scenarios and fighting through screen actions to not get lost as the Louisiana Tech guards look to turn the corner.
It is the same effort Marshall put forth over the last 11:34 of its win over Southern Miss when the Herd kept the Golden Eagles to just six points to close out the win.
That defensive surge starts at the point guard position where Marshall junior Jarrod West is likely to match up with Louisiana Tech’s DaQuan Bracey, who is averaging 12.7 points and 3.0 assists per game while quarterbacking the Bulldogs’ offense.
West is coming off a game in which he led Marshall with five steals. His defensive presence out front on Bracey will set the tone Saturday.
“That’s our bulldog of the team,” Marshall sophomore guard Taevion Kinsey said.
Western Kentucky was able to get a 65-54 win over Louisiana Tech on Thursday night by keeping Bracey in check. The leading guard of the Bulldogs went just 3-of-11 from the floor and had three turnovers as Louisiana Tech never got into an offensive rhythm and fell behind early.
While Bracey is the focal point, the Bulldogs have plenty of weapons with guards Amorie Archibald and Derric Jean, who — like Bracey — can turn the corner and put pressure on the defense with penetration.
And with the penetration comes the opportunity for backside rebounds on the offensive glass — an area where Marshall has been susceptible to the opposition this season.
For D’Antoni, the goal is for Marshall’s defense to turn the Bulldogs over and limit them to one shot, which could jump-start a transition game and early offense.
With Louisiana Tech featuring a four-guard lineup and smaller interior game, the Herd’s ability to utilize Iran Bennett is a big factor Saturday, but the guards will have to be strong defensively to not allow the Bulldogs’ bevy of guards into the paint to take on Bennett and attempt to get him in foul trouble, which has been an issue.
The Bulldogs feature the league’s top defensive team, so Bennett’s mismatch is vital for the Herd’s chances to get a win that would get the team back to .500 in the league standings.