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Larry Butcher/For The Herald-Dispatch Marshall's Rondale Watson (23) drives past the defense of Eastern Kentucky University's Dillon Avare (4) during an NCAA men's basketball game Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

When Candice Brown is in the crowd, she lets everyone know it. She's the mother of Marshall Thundering Herd guard Rondale Watson who said she'll be attending most of his games.

If you don't see her sitting behind the Marshall bench during games in Cam Henderson Center, just listen.

"She is a character," Watson said. "It's hard to not hear her voice. She's very loud and she's excited. She loves the game of basketball.

"I'm just thankful to be able to do what I love and have her support me."

Watson, a 6-foot-4 junior, has practiced with the Marshall team since June 2016 and regained eligibility to play in games at the end of the fall semester. He has two seasons of NCAA Division I experience playing for Wake Forest University in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In his first two games Watson was head coach Dan D'Antoni's first substitute.

He played for 31 minutes and scored 10 in a loss (81-77) at No. 9 Xavier University. Playing at home for the first time Friday, he played for 31 minutes again and scored 12 to help Marshall defeat Eastern Kentucky University, 91-71.

His first basket Friday against EKU came on a Herd staple, a back-door cut along the baseline to take a lob from C.J. Burks and rising high in the air for a dunk. He added two more dunks in the game.

"We've seen it in practice," D'Antoni said. "He's athletic. He flies. It's worth the price of admission just to see him go up a few times for things."

With Watson in the mix Marshall has eight West Virginians on its 15-player active roster. The group includes the Elmore brothers, Jon and Ot from Charleston; Jarrod West from Clarksburg; Burks from Martinsburg; Phil Bledsoe of Wheeling and Watson from Lewisburg along with non-scholarship players Marcus Reed of Charleston and Will Fenton from Fayetteville.

D'Antoni has already used Watson in a lineup of four guards playing with 6-foot-9 forward Ajdin Penava. That's four Mountain State products (Watson, Jon Elmore, Burks, West) with Penava, who is from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"I'm glad he's (Watson) back in West Virginia," said D'Antoni, a Mullens, W.Va., native, following Friday's game. "We want to keep our West Virginia kids here. And, it's kind of a tribute to the (high school) coaches."

Watson's coach at Greenbrier East High School was Gov. Jim Justice, which D'Antoni noted by saying, "Big Jim, if you're out there listening, it's your boy."

The Herd roster of West Virginians grows by at least three next season with the addition of freshman recruit Jeremy Dillon from Mingo Central High School; Alderson-Broaddus University transfer Deaundra Murphy of Huntington; and 6-10 Levi Cook from Arnett in Raleigh County, a transfer who played for one season at DePaul University.

NO MORE PRACTICE: Former Marshall head coach Greg White liked to say non-conference games were practice games for conference play. Well, Marshall is done practicing and jumps into its Conference USA schedule at 7 p.m. Thursday against visiting Southern Miss in Cam Henderson Center. A three-game conference homestand also includes visits by Louisiana Tech at 7 p.m. Saturday that is on ESPN3.com and Western Kentucky at 7 p.m Saturday, Jan. 6.

Old Dominion posted the league's best non-conference record at 9-3 while Middle Tennessee (8-4) faced the strongest lineup of opponents with games against Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Auburn, Princeton, Southern Cal and Miami.

Middle Tennessee was No. 32 on the RealTimeRPI.com list Tuesday followed by No. 88 Western Kentucky (8-5), No. 95 Old Dominion, No. 126 Louisiana Tech (9-4) and No. 134 Marshall (9-4).

STAT CHECK: Marshall leads C-USA in scoring offense (89.2), blocked shots (82) and assists (229). The Herd is last in the conference statistics for scoring defense (82.7), 3-point field goal percentage defense (38.7), rebounding defense (40.2) and defensive rebound percentage (68.0).

UTSA is making more 3-point field goals than Marshall, 11.1 per game to 9.2.

AT THE TURNSTILE: Middle Tennessee's average home attendance in the Murphy Center is 6,854, a conference high. UTEP is next at 6,306 followed by Old Dominion (5,793) and Marshall (4,988).

Sports editor Rick McCann covers Marshall men's basketball for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-525-2759.

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