For many years, I have said "there is something special about Saturday night basketball games in Huntington."
I have been watching Saturday night basketball games in Huntington since the 1960’s. In those days it was always special to go from the cold night winter air into the warm Memorial Field House to watch Ellis Johnson and his iron five of Marshall of George Stone, Bob Redd, Jim Davidson, Bob Allen and Dan D’Antoni.
When you walked in, felt the warmth of the arena and smelled the popcorn, you could feel the basketball magic in the air. You knew you were someplace special on a Saturday night.
Under Marshall head coach Tom Herrion, that special Saturday night atmosphere has returned to Huntington. Iit was present again this past weekend as the Thundering Herd nipped UCF 65-64 in the Henderson Center. Here are some thoughts.
1. Both Marshall and UCF are NCAA tournament caliber teams. They may not make the tournament field as at large teams, but they will be better than many of the at large teams from larger conferences that do make the field.
2. Marshall coach Tom Herrion is doing a masterful job of manipulating and massaging 10 players. it is not easy for find meaningful minutes for that many players, but Herrion is doing it. Every player that played for Marshall on Saturday contributed something to the win.
3. Post player Yous Mbao gave Marshall good minutes in the first half on Saturday. He gave the UCF "bigs" problems as he was a presence defensively with three rebounds and two blocked shots in six minutes.
4. The pre-game intro produced by the Marshall marketing staff was the best I have seen in the Henderson Center. The entire pre-game atmosphere was as good as any in the country.
5. The listed attendance seemed low to me. There was standing room only in virtually every nook and cranny of the building. I am not sure where another 700 spectators could have gone. Saturday night games are a nice event in Huntington.
6. As good as the crowd was, it was also surprising to see large numbers of fans leaving early. Fans began leaving in the last 2 minutes to beat the traffic, but the outcome of the game was obviously very much in doubt.
7. Neither team shot well beyond the three point arc. A lot of that has to do with the perimiter defense of both teams. Marshall, under Tom Herrion, and UCF, under former Marshall coach Donnie Jones, are both well coached. Both teams also have the type of mental toughness that coaches love.
8. Speaking of Jones, the Marshall crowd soundly booed him when he walked on the floor to start the game. There was also a smattering of boos when he left the floor at the end of both halves and that was okay. For the most part, however, it was not nearly like last year. Tthe fans cheered for the home team and did not concentrate on who was in the visiting coaches box.
9. Last year, the post-game handshake line between these two teams got a little chippy in Huntington. This year, despite UCF player frustrations at the end of the game, that did not appear to be the case. That is a tribute also to both coaching staffs. Warm exchanges in the handshake line between Jones and some of the players he recruited to Marshall was also good to see.
10. It was frustrating not getting to see Marshall’s Dennis Tinnon really play. He was unstoppable early but foul trouble took him out of the flow of the game and limited him to 23 minutes. Tinnon still managed 10 rebounds.