— by David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — With 13:31 left to play, leading scorer Taevion Kinsey went to the bench with his fourth foul and Marshall’s lead over Appalachian State was 49-40. When Kinsey returned with 6:05 remaining, the Thundering Herd had upped the advantage to 19 at 65-46.
Kinsey can lead cheers as well as lead the Sun Belt Conference in scoring, though he finished under that 21-point scoring average. He totaled 14 points but not to worry. Guards Andrew Taylor and Kamdyn Curfman netted 15 each, Obinna Anochili-Killen had 11 and Jacob Conner 10, and a suffocating defense made a huge difference, as Marshall defeated the Mountaineers, 79-53, Thursday night in the Sun Belt opener for both teams played in front of 4,816 fans at Cam Henderson Center.
“The first thing I said is all you guys got great minutes,” Kinsey said. “The young guys had a part in the game. They all did well. Everyone made a difference. I cheered them on as hard as I could. We’re in this situation, let’s do this.”
Goran Miladinovic provided the Herd with 12-plus minutes in relief of 7-foot-1 freshman Micah Handlogten. Aymeric Touissaint got 5:30 and freshman Jacob Conner, who is in the Herd rotation, finished with 10 in 25:58. Some early foul trouble forced Herd coach Dan D’Antoni to turn to the bench often.
“It’s good they got a chance,” D’Antoni said. “Goran gave us good minutes. Jacob’s part of the rotation. Toussaint did a good job. We went deeper. I trust them.”
Marko Sarenac got in almost three minutes.
“I told Marko the hardest thing to do is play spot minutes,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a real luxury to have two 7-footers. Goran’s playing better, doing the right thing. He’ll get there. Guys worry they’ll mess up and not play again. Let the guys help you.”
Marshall’s next game is Saturday at home against James Madison. Tip is at 2 p.m. The Dukes won their league opener Thursday, 63-47, at Georgia State.
Marshall (12-2, 1-0 Sun Belt) shot 33-of-63 from the field for 52.4 percent. The Herd is the league’s leader in offensive rebounds and pulled down 14 (49-24 edge for the game) and that helped to a 36-16 advantage in points in the paint. The home team collected 23 assists on the 33 baskets. Taylor had nine assists and Kinsey seven.
“It’s movement with the ball,” Kinsey said. “We have an athletic ball. You see the defense break down and we take advantage.”
“Kam’s about the three. He had a hot hand tonight,” Taylor said. “It’s just all-around trust. We follow Coach D’s plan. And we have the athletic ball. We’ve got a ton of scorers, a ton of leapers.”
Conversely, Appalachian State (7-7, 0-1 Sun Belt) had just nine field goals each half (18-of-53) for 34 percent. The Mountaineers made just 11-of-23 free throws.
“The intensity picked up, the speed picked up,” D’Antoni said. “They didn’t make them when we settled in.”
Appalachian State’s Tyree Boykin topped all scorers with 20 points with 11 coming in the first 10 minutes of the game when he connected on three threes.
Marshall held a 30-28 lead with 1:15 left in the half. A basket by Conner and three from Curfman pushed the lead to seven (35-28) at the break. The Herd scored the first eight points of the second half to seize control at 43-28.
“The start of the half was huge,” Taylor said. “The first four minutes of each half are important. Come out of the gate. I trust the whole team.”
Kinsey said having the edge on the glass is vital. The Herd suffered greatly in that area a year ago on the way to a 12-21 record.
“We lost games last year because we lost rebounds and teams got second-chance points,” he said. “Corny (assistant Cornelius Jackson) said take pride in the fact we lead in offensive rebounds.”
“We’d deflate,” Taylor said. “We’d give up, we ain’t going for it. Now we stay calm in those situations. We’re hard to score on.”
D’Antoni said the Herd’s success goes beyond points and wins.
“We’ve had more of an upgrade in hoops from last year,” he said. “It makes you feel better. We’ve got to keep pushing forward, give the guys a good experience. The guys, they enjoy going to college. They go to class, women’s games, soccer games and so on. They come for the gamut of experience. And basketball.”
Thursday’s game also had a poster giveaway for the Bruce Morris and the “Shot Herd Round the World.”
The shoe prints are back to mark the longest shot made in college basketball history. The Morris heave just before the half covered 89 feet, 10 inches in game against Appalachian State on Feb. 7, 1989. The Herd won that game, 93-82. Morris now officiates women’s and men’s college games. He worked one Thursday and missed the occasion. An interview was played on the scoreboard prior to the second half. His wife, Angie, and family members were on the court at the time.
Marshall is 9-0 at home and leads the overall series with Appalachian State, 33-18. The teams had not met since March 22, 2010.