— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall fans have two final chances to watch the Thundering Herd on the home floor this week when Georgia Southern and Troy come to Huntington for Sun Belt Conference contests.
The first of those contests comes against Georgia Southern at 7 p.m. Thursday and can be seen on ESPN+.
Marshall (21-6, 10-4) is coming off of an 88-77 win Saturday at Georgia State, while the Eagles (14-13, 7-7) won that day at home over Arkansas State, 68-53
The Herd and Eagles met in Statesboro, Ga., on January 5, when Georgia Southern defeated Marshall, 81-76. The Eagles led Marshall by as much as 19 that day, before the Herd made a late rally that fell short. Senior forward Andrei Savrasov led the Eagles with 18 points, while senior guard Taevion Kinsey was Marshall’s top scorer with 22.
Georgia Southern, which has won two straight after losing six of its next seven following the win over Marshall, is in a three-way tie for seventh with Appalachian State and Louisiana Monroe.
Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni is warning his team to beware of a hungry Eagles’ team fighting for a winning record and better seed in the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
“This league is similar to the one we came from,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got four teams in the NET Top 100 and we’re even getting challenges from the teams at the bottoms like we did last week at Georgia State.”
Marshall is in a second-place tie with Louisiana in the Sun Belt Conference standings, two games behind league leader Southern Miss.
D’Antoni believes his team’s mental and physical toughness will be tested in its effort to even the season series with GSU.
“You’ve got to dare to be great and have the stamina, the willpower and toughness to be great,” D’Antoni said. “If you’re afraid to be great, you don’t need to play at Marshall and you should go somewhere else.”
Savrasov (13.6 points) and fifth-year guard Jalen Finch (10.9) are the Eagles’ double-figure scorers. Savrasov is also the team’s top rebounder at 7.4, followed closely by senior forward Carlos Curry with 7.2.
The Eagles have been more defensive-minded and score 68.4 points on average, while surrendering 66.2.
There are no big changes on the Marshall stat sheet as Kinsey (21.8), junior guard Andrew Taylor (19.6) and junior guard Kamdyn Curfman (12.1) continue to dominate team scoring. Freshman center Micah Handlogten still leads in rebounding with 10.2 per game, along with a team-high 66 blocks.
Marshall’s primary scorers have helped the team thrive offensively to average 82.1 points, while the Herd is allowing a respectable 70.2 on average.
Marshall’s steal numbers stand out, and Kinsey, Taylor and freshman forward Jacob Conner have combined for 147 of the team’s 250.
The Herd has won 10 of 13 all-time matchups with the Eagles.
NOTES: Taylor was a double award winner this week as he picked up both the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week award as well as the Lou Henson Award National Player of the Week honor.
The Henson Award honors the top players in mid-major college basketball.
Taylor averaged 29.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in last week’s road wins at Coastal Carolina and Georgia State, while making 52.1 percent of his shots, including 47.6 percent from behind the arc.
On Thursday at Coastal Carolina, Taylor poured in a career-high 33 points to go with a career-high tying 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. He also dished out six assists in the win.
Taylor followed that up with 26 points, five rebounds and five assists in a victory at Georgia State.
The redshirt senior leads the conference and is ninth in the nation with 60 steals and has 11 games of 20 or more points this season.
Taylor’s teammate Kinsey has won Sun Belt Player of the Week three times this season.