HUNTINGTON — Tony Kemper was up and down Tuesday night.
When one set of players was on the floor, the Marshall University women’s basketball coach crouched or was in his chair. When a different, younger, set took the court, Kemper was up and directing the newcomers.
The result was an 89-40 season-opening victory over Kentucky Christian University in front of 733 spectators at Cam Henderson Center.
“The meshing of a group that has experience and knows how to play with a group that has quite a bit of talent and is learning, they all can play, but we have to get together and see how the pieces fit together,” Kemper said. “That was probably the biggest thing. When this group’s on the floor, I have to be really vocal. I have to keep them organized. When that group’s on the floor, I can take a backseat. In that respect, we’re a work in progress.”
The group meshed well, for the most part. Highly touted freshman Savannah Wheeler was sensational in her debut. The 2019 Miss Kentucky Basketball came off the bench to score 18 points, make four steals, issue three assists and grab two rebounds in just 20 minutes. Junior college transfer Dazha Congleton, a former Huntington High School all-stater, scored eight points, snatched six rebounds, made five steals and handed out an assist.
The veterans also played well. Junior guard Kristen Mayo led the Thundering Herd with 19 points and five steals. Junior forward Taylor Pearson scored the first eight points of the game on her way to a 12-point, five-assist outing.
“Yeah, she can play,” Kemper said of Wheeler. “Everybody who has watched her knows that. The players in the locker room know that. I think I’ve been most impressed with her, she likes to compete. If you watched her in high school, she really made a lot of things happen. If you watched her (Tuesday), she was getting other people involved. She made some great plays off of ball screens. She’s going to be a playmaker for us.”
By playmaking, Kemper didn’t mean only putting the ball in the basket. He said Wheeler, who scored 2,674 points at Boyd County High School, played well in several aspects.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to score every time,” he said of Wheeler doing what the team needs. “When she was in high school, she scored a lot. That’s the way it, as with a lot of them. We’re going to function best when we make plays. By plays, I mean wherever the ball ends up is where it’s supposed to end up. She did a really good job of that.”
Kemper said he and his players are learning how all the pieces fit together to make the best team. At 1 p.m. Saturday against Norfolk State at home, Marshall will receive another test of how well it meshes.
“We have a deep team and have a lot who are trying to learn where they fit,” Kemper said. “We have some banged up who will be available pretty soon. It’s good to see a lot of different people contributing. We’ll operate best when it’s like that.”