— By David Walsh
Marshall basketball coach Dan D’Antoni spent a bit longer than normal in the locker room at halftime and at the end of Wednesday’s game against Akron.
It was for good reason, as what D’Antoni witnessed at the outset and down the stretch didn’t set well. The Thundering Herd fell behind early, then watched the Zips make big plays late to escape with the win, 88-86, Wednesday night in front of 1,752 fans in the James A. Rhodes Arena.
Enrique Freeman registered a dunk, got fouled and hit the free throw to get the Zips even at 86 with 24 seconds left. Marshall had taken an 86-83 lead with 34 seconds to play on a 3-pointer by David Early.
After an Akron miss, Early got the rebound, drew a foul, but missed the front end of the bonus to set the stage for Freeman. The Herd had the ball with 18 seconds left and worked it to Andy Taylor for a possible go-ahead shot with four seconds to play, but he missed, Freeman got the rebound and Taylor fouled him.
Freeman made both free throws and then Taevion Kinsey missed a triple with two seconds left and Akron got the ball and win.
“Coaches left the locker room at the half and end of the game and weren’t happy,” D’Antoni said. “If they don’t get that, I can’t undersell what happened.
“Got to find that fight, mental and physical. Got to decide what club we want to put out there, who wants it. We made crucial fouls. That will beat you. We obviously have a lot of work to do.”
Kinsey led Marshall with 30 points and Taylor added a season-high 26 before he fouled out in the closing seconds. Early netted 11. The Herd (4-3) connected on a season-high 11 3s, but went 9-of-17 at the foul line, including just 2-of-7 in the second half.
Taylor and Obinna Anochili-Killen were disqualified with five fouls. Anochili-Killen, who leads the nation in blocked shots with 33 and averages 14.3 points a game, did not score or block a shot and and missed two shots as he played just 9 minutes.
“We’re not winning games by doing what we have to do, by playing hard and smart,” D’Antoni said. “Between coming out not ready and not making big plays down the stretch. Lock in mentally and come in ready to play. I have to figure out who are the guys who are really going to come in every night and play and go with those guys.”
D’Antoni felt Early made some good plays, but there are phases he must continue to clean up.
“If you’re going to win, you got to play great, especially away from home,” D’Antoni said. “I’m not calling David out. He showed signs. He’ll learn from it, but at the same time while he’s learning, we take an L. That’s not fun. It’s a long season. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been here 1,000 times with a thousand different teams. Some people want to throw stones go ahead. We’re going to be there come on with us. Throw stones now, join us later. Whatever.”
Kinsey knows what the Herd must do.
“Games are won or lost at the beginning,” Kinsey said. “We played sluggish and slow. We’ve got to find that toughness and grit. They made their free throws, we didn’t. On the defensive end, we played the whole game fouling and you can’t do that. Got to clean that up.
“We’ve got to have that fire to win and we didn’t have it tonight. We have to come out with fire from the beginning. Got to do some soul searching, figure out who wants to play this game. I don’t like losing. I hope everybody feels this loss.”
Freeman finished with a career-high 24 points and 14 rebounds for a double-double. Bryan Trimble Jr. hit for 23 thanks to making 7-of-12 triples (he was the only Akron player to make a three). Ali Ali had 16 points and Greg Tribble 12.
Akron (4-3) is now 9-5 against Marshall at home and lead the all-time series, 16-13.
Marshall turn its attention to Saturday when it tries to end a two-game skid when Duquesne visits the Cam Henderson Center. Tip is 7 p.m.
D’Antoni, while not happy, knows there’s ample time to straighten this thing out with Kinsey taking the lead.
“I preach this is their team. Take ownership,” D’Antoni said. “[TK] I feel has the will to win. Got to get that in all of them. He’ll be a big factor in that.”