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January 24, 2013
Game 20: Memphis
Marshall's basketball team will figuratively go from the pot to the frying pan.
Or perhaps, the BBQ pit would be more accurate.
Coming off its worst defeat in nearly 100 years in a 102-46 loss at Southern Miss, the Thundering Herd will try to find some answers in a building it hasn't had much success in when playing the home team.
Marshall (9-10) travels to Fed Ex Forum to do battle with host Memphis (15-3) Saturday afternoon.
Even in good circumstances, it's a daunting task.
How bad was the Herd's 56-point loss in Hattiesburg Wednesday?
Try these numbers on for size:
--The largest margin of defeat in C-USA history.
--The largest margin of defeat since 1913 for Marshall.
--The reserves had more rebounds (9) than the starters (7)
--Marshall committed 31 turnovers.
--Southern Miss scored 39 points off turnovers, which was nearly as many points as the Herd had for the game.
--Marshall was 13-33 from the free throw line, 39.4 percent.
--Southern Miss was 36-57 from the field, 63.2 percent.
--Marshall attemped just 39 field goals for the game.
The point is adequately made, but the road doesn't get any easier.
Memphis, the perennial C-USA power, had a shaky start to the season, but is 13-1 in its last 14 games, the lone loss coming by nine to Louisville.
The Tigers, who beat the Herd in last season's C-USA championship game, are a perfect 4-0 in league play.
Joe Jackson, a crafty point guard who befuddled more experienced Herd guards last season, has become the top scoring threat for the Tigers. The 6'1 junior averages 13.8 points per game. Adonis Thomas, who was considered an NBA prospect out of high school but was injured much of his freshman year, is averaging 10.4 points per game.
Geron Johnson, a JUCO guard who one JUCO Recruiting service once mentioned to HerdNation.com could be a Marshall target after getting in trouble a year ago, ended up at Memphis and scores 10.2 points per game.
Marshall is 2-2 in conference play and, on the bright side, three of the four toughest road trips will be in the rearview mirror following Saturday's game. Marshall has never won at UTEP, at Southern Miss, or at Memphis (sans C-USA tournament games against neutral opponents).
Of course, the Herd was never quite humbled as it was by Southern Miss Wednesday.
There is only one way Marshall can look at that loss-with a quiet determination to never let that happen again. Losses are tough enough. Being humiliated is another story. Everything that could go wrong for Marshall did, from Dennis Tinnon and Nigel Spikes not starting for a violation of team rules, to the satellite feed of the game not functioning, while everything that could go right for Southern Miss did.
Memphis is a bear. The Tigers were lackadaisical at times a year ago but have honed in with a more experienced team this year. Only Will Barton went to the NBA early, meaning returners such as Tarik Black, who destroyed Marshall around the rim last year, and the high-flying D. J. Stephens are back.
Stephens is a "wow" player. You don't have to be a Memphis fan to be impressed by his leaping ability. He's blocked 38 shots in 18 games, just more than two per contest. Simply put, the young man appears to hit a trampoline before taking flight.
But there's more than simply this game that is going on in Herd Country. It's obvious there is a disconnect on the squad.
Through social media, players are more accessible than ever. Most of the time, it's to take praise from the home fans following a good performance. Unfortunately, it's also a way to vent after a bad game, sometimes directly posted at players.
Having been on the bus with teams following great wins and horrific losses alike, no one feels worse than the players after a game. Piling on at them does nothing to endear the Marshall players to a community that loves the Herd and only wants to see wins.
The disconnect between some players and the community is evident. No player catches more flak from the friendly fans in the league than DeAndre Kane, who has had a good junior season in spite of many circumstances surrounding the team that are beyond his control. His worst game was at Southern Miss. As he goes, so goes the Herd.
Kane has come up with some determined performances when all has looked lost in the past. He's not a one man team, but with the make-up of this particular Marshall team, the weight of the program falls directly on his shoulders to get everyone to play at his level.
The Herd must take some of what makes it a very good home team in league play (ask Tulsa and ECU, neither of whom came close), and play with that spark on the road. In a league where it seems to be Memphis, then Southern Miss, then the home teams on any given night, Marshall must take Saturday's game at Memphis as a chance to improve against the best team it will face the remainder of the season.
A step forward is more necessary than a win after what happened Wednesday night at Southern Miss.
Ryan Epling is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.