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February 15, 2013
It's the end of an era, albeit a brief one. Marshall will play host to Memphis one last time in the Henderson Center.
No longer do the Tigers boast a Top 5 team fighting for a No. 1 NCAA seed with John Calipari walking the sidelines.
Instead it's Josh Pastner, a young coach put into an unenviable task of following the man who resurrected the program.
Pastner is still looking for his first NCAA tournament win in his fourth season.
But this Memphis squad is on fire.
The Tigers (21-3) have won 15-straight games and have made it look incredibly easy of late. Memphis beat Southern Miss by 13 in Hattiesburg last week, and earlier this week, was up 30 on UCF in the second half of a 22-point win at Fed-Ex Forum.
Geron Johnson has been the spark of the latest Tiger hotstreak. The JUCO guard is the reigning C-USA player of the week, when he averaged 22 points per game in wins at SMU and at Southern Miss.
Johnson had 19 points and nine rebounds to go with eight assists in the win over UCF Wednesday. The Tigers shot 65 percent in the second half of that victory.
Joe Jackson continues to lead the team in scoring, as the crafty point guard averages nearly 14 points per game.
Memphis won by 20 in the Henderson Center last season.
Marshall, which has beaten the Tigers just once since joining C-USA in the 05-06 season, will give it one more try in the regular season Saturday night.
The Thundering Herd (11-14) struggled through a sluggish 71-70 victory over Rice Wednesday night. Elijah Pittman has been Marshall's leading scorer in four of its last five games. The JUCO transfer is scoring
Pittman is scoring 15.4 points per game, while Dennis Tinnon averages nine rebounds.
Marshall lost the first meeting Memphis by a single point.
Finding keys to this game really are two fold.
First, the Herd must defend. Memphis is a team that can use dribble penetration and move the ball quick than the defense rotates to get either point blank dunks or open jumpers. Few teams in the league have been as consistent as Memphis has.
This means Marshall can not afford to get beat off the dribble. If beat on the drive, the Herd must first defend the rim and hope it can contest an outside jumper. Memphis had a dunkfest in Huntington last year and in the C-USA Championship game. Marshall's interior defenders have to force contested shots and collapse to rebound. Making the Tigers win from distance is better than the basket support shaking after another dunk.
Second, Marshall can not afford live ball turnovers. If Memphis forces a turnover, it's a race to the rim the Tigers often win. Taking care of the basketball is of vital importance. The Herd must work to free D. D. Scarver and Pittman for open looks, while getting mid-range jumpers from Tinnon and Robert Goff to fall. Nigel Spikes has to own the paint on the defensive end much like he did against UCF.
As Marshall turns down the home stretch, a win would go a long way toward helping the squad gain confidence. The talent displayed in the close loss at Memphis was indicative of what Herd fans expected on a consistent basis.
Making it all come together can, even in mid-February, salvage a disappointing season.
Ryan Epling is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.