This will be the first time both the men's team and the women's team at Marshall will enter 2008 with both squads records being on the winning side since 1994 gave way to 1995. Billy Donovan's first Marshall men's team was 6-3 to start the season in 1994, while Sarah Evans-Moore was leading her third MU women's team to a 5-3 start. It is also the first doubleheader for the men's and women's team since last February 17, when the women lost to UTEP, 57-64, and the men lost to Tulane, 65-73. It is the first of three double-dips for the two teams, including the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic in the Charleston (W.Va.) Civic Center against the West Virginia Mountaineers; and another men's-women's doubleheader on Feb. 23, with the men facing Central Florida at 2 p.m. and the women again playing the second game, UAB, at 5 p.m.
Casey Baker and Alyssa Hammond are among the scoring leaders for the MU women, who open C-USA play against East Carolina this Saturday at 5 p.m. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The MU women are coming off a sensational rebound from a poor start to the 2007-08 season. The Herd of Coach Royce Chadwick open the season 0-3 in the Pre-season WNIT, losing at Evansville, then to both IUPUI and Radford in the second round at Oxford, Oh. Since then, the Herd is 8-2 with only losses at home to Pittsburgh in the finals of the Fifth Third MU Classic and in the finals of the Marriott Cavalier Classic to Virginia last week. In fact, Marshall has only played three of 13 games in the friendly confines of the Henderson Center, so don't expect the MU team to have any sympathy for the East Carolina team, in the midst of a seven-game road trip that includes three on the road to open C-USA play.
Marshall had won five-straight on the road, including knocking off the Big XII's Missouri Tigers in the opening round of the UVA tournament, before falling to the Cavs. "We became road warriors and accomplished a lot under adverse conditions," Chadwick told Anthony Grant of The Herald-Dispatch on Thursday. "We got ready for conference play." Marshall is being led in scoring by the current C-USA Player of the Week, senior guard Kizzy Hart. She averages 14.6 points per game, while junior guard Casey Baker (13.2 ppg), a former C-USA Player of the Week, and sophomore forward Alyssa Hammond (11.2) are also averaging double-figure scoring. MU averages 74 points per game, second in C-USA, but is next to last in opponent scoring, allowing 73.3 points per game.
The seven-game road trip for East Carolina is the longest since the 2000-2001 season. The Pirates beat the Big East's Georgetown Hoyas, 61-60, but fell to the host Hokies of Virginia Tech in the finals, 72-46, in their last game. ECU Coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener, who is now 90-102 in her seventh season, won the league and advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, giving her Pirates back-to-back winning seasons after posting a 42-69 mark her first two seasons at East Carolina. The trip to the post-season was the second in school history, and first since 1982.
ECU guards LaCoya Terry, averaging 14.1 points per game, and Jasmine Young, 14.2 points per game, lead the Pirates in scoring. The Bucs returned seven letter-winners and three starters from the C-USA championship team.
On the men's side, Marshall is off to its best start since Coach Greg White's final Herd team opened the year 5-3, while his 2001-002 team opened 7-4, same record posted by White's former Pikeville College point guard, Donnie Jones, in his first year at the helm of the Herd. Jones was an assistant to Donovan at Florida for back-to-back titles the last two seasons, and was also with Donovan and former Herd Head Coach Dwight Freeman as an assistant at MU from 1992-96.
The Herd bounced back from its worst performance of the season in last Saturday's loss to Lipscomb with a convincing win over San Diego on New Year's Eve, 76-60, after the Toreros had beaten Kentucky in Rupp Arena just two days before. Marshall has three players in double-figure scoring: junior forward Markel Humphrey (15.5 points per game, No. 9 in C-USA), senior guard Mark Dorris (12.8), 16th in C-USA) and freshman power forward Tirrell Baines (13.3, 13th in league). The true frosh is also one-two with Humphrey in rebounding, with the Herd junior pulling 6.1 per game and Baines grabbing 6.0 per game, ranked 12th and 13th in the league in rebounds. Baines is second in the league to only Joey Dorsey of Memphis with 3.45 offensive rebounds per game while Humphrey averages 4.0 defensive boards and leads the league in minutes played with 34.91 per game.
"I told the guys that this game was won in practice," said Jones after the San Diego win on Monday. "That was the best 40 minutes we've played." The play of senior guard Taurean Marshall, the walk-on who is having a break-out fourth year with Jones, broke the game wide open in the first half. On consecutive possessions, Marshall, the player, stole the ball from the Toreros' Devin Ginty and converted the picks into easy fast-break layups. The 16-8 by lead by Marshall, the team, would quickly increase to as many as 20 points by the 6:42 mark of the first half and San Diego would never get closer than 16 points down in the second half.
Taurean Marshall made not one but two consecutive steals from San Diego's Devin Ginty (right) in the first half. Marshall converted both steals into easy fast-break layups for a 76-60 win on New Year's Eve. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Herd forced 10 San Diego turnovers in the half, and turned them into 15 points. True freshman guard Matt Walls, who had been in a 4-for-24 shooting slump over three games including just 1-of-9 against Lipscomb, scored 10 of those points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the field. He finished the game 5-for-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from behind the arc. Marshall also dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Toreros 34-22, with Humphrey and Baines each getting six. Marshall's three-headed center - sophomores Robbie Jackson and Tyler Wilkerson, plus senior Jean Francois Bro Grebe - combined for six rebounds, 12 points, three blocks and a steal in 27 combined minutes.
Despite being hooked by San Diego's Rob Jones, Marshall's Robbie Jackson hauled in this rebound in the second half of The Herd's commanding 76-60 win over the Toreros. Jackson scored six points in 10 minutes of action. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Winthrop, under new Head Coach Randy Peele (who replaced ultra-successful Gregg Marshall, a former MU assistant under White), is coming off a 78-34 pasting of Division II Limestone (2-5) at home for its third-straight win. More impressive is the upset last Saturday of No. 19 Miami oin the Orange Bowl Classic, 76-70, to knock the 'Canes out of the Top 25 this week. The Miami win came after knocking off Old Dominion, 62-59, and Winthrop also has wins over C-USA's East Carolina (72-57), Akron (68-58) and Georgia Tech (79-73) in the Paradise Jam at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The Eagles have lost to Baylor in the Paradise Jam, at West Virginia, at Mississippi and at Mount St. Mary's.
The Eagles are led in scoring by three seniors: 6-foot-3 guard Michael Jenkins (14.5 points per game), 6-foot-7 forward Taj McCullough (14.2 ppg) and 5-10 guard Chris Gaynor (10 ppg). McCullough is also the leading rebounder with 5.4 per game. Winthrop averages 67.8 points per game while holding opponents to 62.7, shooting 45 percent from the field and 39 percent from three (90-232). They average 34.1 rebounds, 14.2 turnovers, 8.1 steals and 3.4 blocks per game.
The MU women will be at Memphis on Thursday, Jan. 10, and at UAB on Jan. 12. The Herd men will open C-USA play on the road in Texas, facing Rice, on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (EST). MU returns home next Saturday to face No. 2 in the Nation Memphis and a sell-out is expected in the 9,000-plus seat Henderson Center. The MU Alumni will host a pre-game party at the Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe' in downtown Huntington next Saturday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. before the 8 p.m. game, and has tickets for $9 each in the upper bowl. Call 1-800 MU-ALUMX for information.