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January 11, 2013

Game 17: UTEP

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They smiled and laughed. They had fun. And they played very well.

Marshall's stunning 79-61 rout of Tulsa wasn't that close Wednesday night in the Cam Henderson Center. The Thundering Herd led by nearly 30 points through large portions of the second half.

Forget that Tulsa had some players out. Forget that the Golden Hurricane had been struggling. All of that was irrelevant. Wednesday night's win was all about Marshall.

DeAndre Kane, in his second game back from a broken hand, played sharp and under control guiding the offense. Elijah Pittman and D. D. Scarver both found more open looks, thanks to Kane. Ball movement was improved. Dennis Tinnon was clearing the defensive glass en route to 11 total rebounds. Nigel Spikes and Robert Goff were each effective on the interior.

Even Yous Mbao returned after a devastating concussion that cost him nearly two months of action.

To put it mildly, the Herd (8-8) was firing on multiple cylinders. A 19-0 run in the first half turned a 6-5 deficit into a 24-6 lead, taking the wind out of the Golden Hurricane.

Now at 1-0 in Conference USA play, the Herd turns its attention to a trip to UTEP, in an arena where its lone win was a C-USA Tournament game against Houston.

Tim Floyd has the Miners (7-6, 1-0) playing well this season. The record is somewhat deceiving. The losses are at Arizona, neutral-site games with Oklahoma, Clemson and Vanderbilt when UTEP was not playing well, a two-point loss to a ranked UNLV squad, and a four-point loss at Colorado State.

The Miners have won four of their past five games, including a triple-overtime win over Oregon and a 16-point win over Nebraska.

UTEP opened league play with a nine-point win at Tulane Wednesday night.

Statistically, UTEP is an average team. That's because the three losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Vanderbilt were by a combined 52 points over a four-day stretch. The Miners are scoring just 63 points per game, while allowing the same.

The Miners don't shoot many three-pointers. In fact, UTEP has attempted nearly 60 fewer three's than its opponents. Opponents outrebound UTEP by three per game. The fact is, while the Haskins Center has been a difficult place for anyone to play over the years, especially when travelling two time zones over, the Miners are beatable.

Julian Washburn leads UTEP with 13.5 points per game, but he is just 2-22 on three-point attempts. Konner Tucker, a transfer from Sam Houston State, has appeared in just six games, but led the team in scoring in four of them. Once gaining his eligibility at the semester break, Tucker has helped the Miners tremendously at the guard position and is a great shooter. Tucker has made 20-35 three's and is shooting 57 percent from beyond the arc. He's just 2-14 inside the three-point line, though, and is a perfect 13-13 from the foul line.

Tucker and Scarver could be a good matchup of 6-foot-4 shooters.

John Bohannon, a 6-foot-10 center, scores 11.1 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per contest.

UTEP's turnover numbers are pedestrian. The Miners have committed 12.9 per game, while forcing 13.2 per contest. Marshall committed 20 against Tulsa, but most of those were in the last 10 minutes, when the Herd was using the bench to cruise to the victory.

This means that UTEP typically does not defend the passing lanes. The Miners are averaging just five steals per game. Everything points to a team that is vulnerable.

Marshall's victory over Tulsa should not be taken lightly. It was the type of performance Herd fans were expecting from this edition of the team on a more consistent basis. A trip out west to El Paso provides the opportunity for Tom Herrion's ballclub to show it was more than just one great night in January that led to Wednesday's win. It's an opportunity to show the squad is picking itself up and righting the ship.

Ryan Epling is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.







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