By Ken Cross
Coming into Thursday night’s 91-83 win over the Charlotte 49ers, Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni knew he would have to have even more guard contributions with talented big man Ajdin Penava out of the lineup due to an ankle injury. Three Thundering Herd guards, C.J. Burks (33), CUSA leading scorer Jon Elmore (19), and Rondale Watson (20) combined for 72 points as Marshall kept the game at a break-neck pace to pick up their first CUSA win of the season.
“We had a lot of lineups out there that we haven’t seen this year,” commented D’Antoni, “We were scrambling and really trying to figure out how we were going to fill our roster. At one time we had the Mini-Mes all playing all at the same time.”
D’Antoni was talking about a five guard line up that kept the frenetic pace and didn’t allow Charlotte to be able to catch them in half-court matchups although the 49ers, outside of improving big-man Jailan Haslem, who had his first career double-double, are limited inside.
“They did a nice job and they weren’t able to beat us up on the inside and we were able to get a win,” sad D’Antoni, “Any win, I don’t care where it is, on the road is a good win.”
Player of the Game
C.J. Burks, CUSA’s third leading scorer, came in averaging 20.1 ppg. and shooting 47.4 percent from the floor. He notched a career high of 32 in netting 12-of-19 shots and continually going to the basket off the dribble. Charlotte guard Jon Davis offset him with 38 points, a career-high of his own.
“He really came on in the second half,” noted D’Antoni of Burks, “We missed a ton of layups in the first half. He would have probably had 50 points if he would have just made his layups in the first half.”
“It’s not surprising; he’s been like this many times especially when the game gets wide open,” D’Antoni said, “If it does get wide open and they are chasing us, he is strong to the basket. He has a great touch in and a round the rim. I was surprised he missed as many as he did in the first half. We are eventually going to get all our bigs back and we will have a complete team.”
— Marshall Men's Hoops (@HerdMBB) January 12, 2018
Herd Bigs MIA
D’Antoni has a jewel in the paint in Adjin Penava, who at 6-9, 220, can dominate the middle in most any assignment. He was sidelined in Thursday’s game after an ankle injury last Saturday in the loss to Western Kentucky.
“He’s had lines where he had 32/15, 9 blocked shots, 3 assists,” said D’Antoni, “It took a big chunk out of our lineup. With him back in there, it’s difficult for teams to score on us.”
Penava averages 16.7 points and 9.1 boards per night. He is athletic and can move side to side and dominate defensively with his length. Penava averages 4.7 blocks per game which leads the nation.
“He looked pretty good in shoot around, so he is getting close,” commented D’Antoni, “Not sure he will be ready for Saturday, but he will get back in there.
Marshall was also missing freshman Darius George, who has contributed inside as well in averaging 19.4 minutes per contest on the interior
Explaining the Game
Marshall and Charlotte missed lots of open three-pointers, layups, and stick backs off rebounds. As these were the bottom two teams in the league in defensive field goal percentage, it stood to reason that beating each other off the dribble was going to be readily available.
“That’s our game, we come off the dribble, we spread you out, we pick and roll, we roll down the back side, we shoot threes, we shoot layups, and we shoot free throws,” noted D’Antoni, “That’s how we do it so we didn’t have to come out of our style to play this team. We spread them out and came off the dribble. Our four guards are all West Virginia guards. In high school, they attacked the basket and they do now.”
Charlotte managed to outscore the Herd, 44-40, in the paint, but Marshall used it’s bench liberally and raced ahead of the 49ers from there, 26-5.