— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Huntington will get a dose of the Lone Star state this weekend as the Marshall plays host to defending Conference USA champion North Texas on Thursday night, followed by a Saturday night visit from the Rice Owls.
The game with the Mean Green tips off at 7 p.m. at the Cam Henderson Center and will be shown by ESPN+.
Marshall (7-8, 0-2) continues to struggle and is in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The latest loss came at home last Saturday to Florida Atlantic, 90-77, a game in which the Thundering Herd never led.
It’s been over a month since Marshall has won, an 80-69 triumph at Eastern Kentucky back on December 11. That win has been followed by double-figure losses to Ohio, Northern Iowa, Toledo, Louisiana Tech and FAU.
While Marshall improved its shooting a bit in the FAU loss, head coach Dan D’Antoni thinks his team needs to boost its level of effort and play with more confidence.
“We’ve got to get a swagger and that’s hard to do when you lose five straight,” D’Antoni said. “It’s hard to get your swagger back, but without that, bad things happen.”
One issue plaguing the Herd during the losing streak is poor starts, such as what happened against Florida Atlantic when Marshall found itself trailing 22-8 only 10 minutes into the game. The Herd trimmed its deficit to five with 7:44 left, but could get no closer.
Marshall’s leading scorer is junior guard Taevion Kinsey, who is still struggling from the perimeter, but was able to score 20 points in the FAU loss. Kinsey averages 19.3 points per game, followed by freshman forward Obinna Anochili-Killen at 13.8 points and junior point guard Andrew Taylor at 12.5.
Anochili-Killen continues to lead MU with 6.9 rebounds per game, followed by Kinsey and Taylor at 5.9 and 5.3 boards, respectively.
Marshall is shooting only 28 percent from the 3-point line as a team.
“We’ve lost that mojo and we’ve got to get it back so we can get a little swagger,” D’Antoni said. “The opponent has to look over and see an animal running full speed, not one that’s limping.”
Marshall is hoping to have senior forward Darius George and junior center Goran Miladinovic available for action Thursday after the pair was forced to miss the Florida Atlantic game due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
North Texas (9-4, 2-1) has only two players who average scoring in double figures, but the Mean Green has five players averaging at least 8.4 points per game. The top scorers for North Texas are junior guard Tylor Perry (15.1 ppg) and fifth-year forward Thomas Bell (11.4 ppg). Bell is also the Mean Green’s top rebounder at 6.5 per game, followed by sophomore forward Abou Ousmane at 5.2 rebounds per game.
The Mean Green, who enter off a 70-63 victory over Middle Tennessee State last Saturday, is outscoring its opponents by nearly 11 points per game and out-rebounds them by nearly four caroms per contest.
North Texas is coached by Grant McCasland, who is in his fifth season in Denton, Texas. In that time, he has an 88-55 record.
Besides last weekend’s victory, the Mean Green has beaten Rice and lost to UAB in C-USA play.
Marshall leads the all-time series 7-4 and the teams split two games played in Huntington last season.
Kinsey reached double-figure scoring for the 49th consecutive contest with his 20 points against FAU. It was his 10th game of 20 or more points this season … Freshman Chase McKey made his first start against the Owls and tallied a career-high nine points … The Herd made a 3-pointer in its 985th consecutive game. The last contest without a triple for Marshall occurred on February 27, 1989, in a win over Appalachian State.