— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Taevion Kinsey’s time at Cam Henderson Center came to an end Saturday night. He couldn’t his scripted his finale any better.
Kinsey scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and had six assists to spark the Thundering Herd past Troy, 88-78, in Sun Belt Conference action on Senior Night. He, along with Andrew Taylor and Goran Miladinovic were honored prior to tip-off and the sellout crowd of 5,711 stood and clapped to show their approval for the three’s service to Marshall on and off the court.
“This means the world,” Kinsey said. “I remember my first game, Glenville State. Went up and down the court. I got tired. I thought this is crazy. It was anxiety. I settled down. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this anywhere else. I love this team. It’s been like that with every team. There’s something special about this team. We’ve jelled. It’s been a long journey. I love Marshall. I bleed green.”
Taylor led Marshall (23-6, 12-4 Sun Belt) with 27 points and dished out six assists. The Herd is in second alone in the league behind Southern Miss with two games remaining. That position in the standings means Marshall has earned a double-bye for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament scheduled Feb. 28-March 6 in Pensacola, Fla.
Taylor, who could return next season, knows what Senior Nights can be like.
“I’ve been here 4 or 5 years. I know what it feels like,” Taylor said. “We knew we needed this one and picked it up.”
D’Antoni knew what his team was in for as well.
“They played desperate. They were desperate,” D”Antoni said of the Trojans, who never led in the game. “I don’t want to hear anymore about this is a soft league. This ain’t no soft league. Them boys can take on anybody. This conference is a lot more physical than Conference USA. This conference is hard to beat as mid-majors go.”
Earlier in the week, Kinsey and Taylor got some air time on ESPN. They followed through with yet another big night.
“They got a lot of good press,” D’Antoni said.” Pretty good picks. Both had great games. I love them. This team’s had a great year. Taevion … just a quality human being.”
Troy (17-12, 9-7 Sun Belt) once trailed by 16 points with 18:25 left. The Trojans slowly cut into the deficit and got it to four at 81-77 on a jumper by Nelson Phillips. After a timeout by the Trojans, Kamdyn Curfman, the Herd’s three-point specialist who is a transfer from VMI, nailed a deep three with 1:30 to play and restored the lead to seven. Obinna Anochili-Killen followed with a crowd-pleasing dunk with 34 seconds left and Taylor connected on two free throws with 21 seconds to go to seal it.
Curfman’s three was similar to the one he had late in the second half of Thursday’s 84-83, come-from-behind win over Georgia Southern at home. Curfman totaled 15 points this night on five threes.
“That put the dagger in their back,” Taylor said.
“He took it (shot) off the dribble. He hadn’t done that in a while,” Kinsey said. “I looked, saw the ball in the air and knew that was going in. He knows when we need the dagger.”
“That last one put the dagger in,” D’Antoni said. “You have to let him do that. “
Taylor said it’s a matter of the Herd not letting down when it has a big lead.
“This was a good test,” he said. “It’s a learning opportunity. We took our foot off the gas a little bit. We were playing not to lose, not to win.”
There were times in the second half when Kinsey shared his enthusiasm with fans sitting at courtside. Hand slaps with little ones.
“Emotions are part of the game,” Kinsey said. “It’s entertainment. You have to know when to do it. I like to put a smile on the faces of little kids. If I had the chance, I’d do it every time.”
Marshall closes out the regular season this week with visits to James Madison and Old Dominion. The Herd and Dukes meet Wednesday in Harrisonburg, Va. Tip is 7 p.m. The finale is Friday against the Monarchs in Norfolk, Va. That tips at 7. Then teams head to Florida.
“They’re a solid team,” Taylor said of the Dukes, who beat the Herd, 72-66, on Dec. 31 in Huntington. “They beat us. They’re a disciplined team. It’ll be tough.”
Whether it’s Kinsey, Taylor or a future player (recruit or transfer portal), D’Antoni said it’s a must they play at their best.
“I love this team regardless. We’ve had a great year. We’ll play all the way through and see what happens. If you don’t let them play … for us to be a great team, we all have to play at a high level. If you put a lid on and don’t let them play, there’s no way you can play at a high level. You have to suffer a little bit to give them a chance to see if they can be great. You have to dare to be great. I use that term all the time. You want to try to recruit in the Top 100, good luck. We have to develop players.
“There’s only one team ahead of us that’s a portal team, Southern Miss, and we beat them by 20 (actually 22 at 89-67). There are times we may use it (portal). It depends on what player we can get. We lose Tae (Kinsey). That’s a tough hole to fill. We’ll try to find a player who can come in and patch that hole.”
The Herd, on a four-game win streak, now leads the series 3-0. The loss ended Troy’s winning streak at four.
Saturday’s game also was Mental Awareness Night. Herd players took part in an autograph session after the game. Former Herd great Jon Elmore, who now plays professionally in the G-Leaguie, attended the game. Noah Thompson, the latest American Idol winner, sang the national anthem.