HUNTINGTON — Danny D’Antoni knows the telltale signs of a team that has quit.
The Marshall University men’s basketball coach said Middle Tennessee displays none of them.
The Thundering Herd (7-8 overall, 1-1 Conference USA) visits the Blue Raiders (4-11, 0-2) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the 10,000-seat Murphy Center. Marshall has won five of its last seven games, and three of its last four away from Cam Henderson Center. Middle Tennessee has lost six straight, but still has D’Antoni’s respect.
“You can recognize when a team has quit,” D’Antoni said. “First of all, they don’t play off-ball defense. Those teams start losing the intensity to play defense, and they haven’t done that. The other thing that happens when you lose your zeal to play because things haven’t gone your way, your offense starts becoming individualized. They have done neither.”
With two league losses, however, the Blue Raiders season could quickly turn south. That, the Herd believes, makes them dangerous.
“They’re tough,” Marshall junior guard Jarrod West said. “I know some of their returning players. This is a road game and a conference game, so it won’t be easy. They’re looking for a win and they’ll play hard and be ready to play.”
Playing hard does not necessarily mean playing well. Middle Tennessee owns just one victory, a 73-70 triumph over Lipscomb, against a NCAA Division I team. The other two wins were against NCAA Division II and NAIA foes.
The Blue Raiders lost to C-USA opponents Charlotte (68-62) and Old Dominion (70-60) on the road.
At Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices, Marshall was keenly focused on the Blue Raiders’ tendencies, as well as on what it needed to do.
“Every game is important, whether on the road or at home, it’s the next game,” D’Antoni said. “There are no teams you can take lightly. The biggest thing is to watch yourself.”
The Herd has room to improve after Saturday’s 67-64 home loss to north Texas. That defeat leaves Marshall with one fewer game to slip up in risking seeding for the conference tournament. D’Antoni said Middle Tennessee does nothing the Herd hasn’t seen, but to expect an easy game is foolish.
“Middle Tennessee is a good, well-coached ball club,” D’Antoni said. “Coach (Nick McDevitt) still has them playing within his style. They’re still responding to what he asks. They’ll be formidable. They’ve been in most games. They usually come out a little slow and then come on hard. Charlotte didn’t blow them away and Old Dominion didn’t blow them away. They’re still playing hard.”
Junior guard C.J. Jones leads Middle Tennessee in scoring at 16 points per game. Senior guard Antonio Green averages 13 points per game.
Marshall counters with four players averaging in double figures: sophomore guard Taevion Kinsey leads the Herd at 14.7 points per contest and West is a close second at 14.5. Freshman guard Andrew Taylor is at 11.5 and sophomore center Iran Bennett 10.1