For Obinna Anochili-Killen, defense was always going to be the best way to earn early playing time at Marshall.
As the Thundering Herd are finding out seven games into their 2020-2021 season, however, Anochili-Killen can provide much more than a defensive upgrade for MU.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound true freshman has transitioned well to the Division I level after starring at Chapmanville High School. Anochili-Killen, who has started all seven contests, is fifth on the Herd in points (8) and minutes (20) per game. He’s also contributing 3.6 rebounds and more than one block on average.
“It’s been a pretty good transition,” Anochili-Killen said. “You’re playing against good teams every day and you have to bring your ‘A’ game. You can’t take any breaks. Right now, I’m doing pretty well, but I know I can do better.”
Anochili-Killen is the team’s second tallest starter and his surplus of length allows him to guard multiple positions. One of the Mountain State’s better rim protectors at the prep level over the last decade, Anochili-Killen believes his wingspan and versatility provide advantages.
“I use what I’m good at to back up what I don’t have,” Anochili-Killen said. “I’m quicker and I try to play harder as a defensive-minded guy. Even if I’m not the biggest or strongest guy on the court, I use what I have.
“My goal is being active and being all over the place.”
Although Marshall’s backcourt is not short on experience — guards Jarrod West and Taevion Kinsey have started for multiple years, while fellow guard Andrew Taylor was a starter last season — the frontcourt had more openings for playing time, which Anochili-Killen has capitalized on.
“It’s obviously a big step up, but Obinna has come on a little quicker than most,” MU coach Dan D’Antoni said. “He has a lot of length and his position is more open. Three of our guards were back and they’ve all played well.”
Anochili-Killen has made 17-of-40 field goals for 42.5 percent shooting, while knocking down 18-of-25 free throws (72 percent). His three highest-scoring games are the Herd’s three most recent contests, including 15 points in a victory over Robert Morris on Dec. 20. Anochili-Killen also contributed eight points in his debut against Arkansas State and eight more in a victory over Ohio that saw the freshman make two 3-pointers.
“He looked really comfortable against Ohio,” D’Antoni said. “He hit those two 3s, and defensively he’s so athletic and long, he should always be good in that regard.”
Anochili-Killen has made 4-of-15 tries from beyond the arc thus far, but has the OK from D’Antoni to let it fly from the perimeter.
“I feel pretty comfortable there, because coach always says shoot that and ‘you’re not going to make it if you don’t shoot it,’” Anochili-Killen said. “He’s told me he believes in me and my shot. If I’m open, I’m supposed to shoot it. I have more confidence now than I’ve ever had.”
With Marshall at 6-1 ahead of the start of Conference USA play Friday at Louisiana Tech, Anochili-Killen has also gotten to experience what winning feels like in college.
It’s something Anochili-Killen is used to as the three-time Class AA first-team all-state selection in high school was a major piece of Chapmanville’s state champion teams in 2018 and 2019.
“Coach has been stressing that our offense hasn’t been what’s making us win games, but more our defense,” Anochili-Killen said. “I’m learning from the veteran guys and just picking up on stuff they do well. You want to get to that level in a couple years, so it’s been good for me.”