Written by Justin Prince.
Murphy’s Law was in full effect from the opening tip-off inside of the Cam Henderson Center Saturday night for the Marshall basketball team and its fans as the Thundering Herd took on conference rival Western Kentucky.
First, the game was supposed to be broadcast for fans to watch on the Stadium Sports network, but when fans flipped to the channel they were treated to a 2016 interview with Syracuse coach Jim Boehiem instead.
Then it was a missed layup by guard C.J. Burks on a wide-open attempt. That was followed by an injury to Ajdin Penava moments later, which would see the nation’s leading shot blocker sidelined for the rest of the game.
“With Darius George already hurt and Dani Kolianin a little under the weather we were already thin inside,” head coach Dan D’Antoni said following the game. “We don’t know for sure but it looks like Penava is going to be out for two or three weeks, maybe five or six if something is broken.”
Things got worse after Penava’s injury when a ticky-tack foul on junior Rondale Watson led to D’Antoni getting a technical for questioning the call. Another would follow that “T” when point guard Jon Elmore was called for one of his own for suggesting to the official that he may have been fouled on his drive to the basket.
In the midst of all of that, Western Kentucky’s Darius Thompson went 4-4 from 3-point range and the Hilltoppers were up 16-3.
From there, it was all WKU as the Herd suffered its first home loss of the season 112-87. The defeat snapped an 11 game win streak at the Henderson Center and a 5 game win streak over WKU.
With Penava out of the game, Marshall’s inside presence resembled swiss cheese more than it did an actual defense as the Herd gave up layups, alley oops, and dunks at a ridiculous rate. The Hilltoppers out rebounded Marshall 53-26 and scored an unbelievable 70 points in the paint.
“We didn’t play our best ball,” D’Antoni said. “Losing Penava hurt us inside, I mean you take a guy off the floor that blocks five shots in four minutes and it’s going to hurt you. But, we just didn’t play very good or very hard and Western is too good of a team to not play good against.”
The game was full of statistical anomalies like WKU’s points in the paint total. Such as the fact that Marshall made 18 threes while shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc and only turned the ball over seven times and still lost by 25.
Offensive stalwarts Elmore and Burks combined to go just 11-37 from the field while Thompson poured in a career high 33 and collected a triple-double with 10 assists and 10 boards for WKU while Justin Johnson added 27 for the Hilltoppers.
“They’re good, they’re really, really good,” D’Antoni said. “But, I don’t think they’ve seen the best of us yet. I don’t know what else to say, a lot of things happened tonight and that’s how life is. You’re not going to get every break, but you have to find a way to keep fighting. So we’ll see what happens from here.”
There were a couple of bright spots for Marshall, like freshman players Jarrod West and Jansen Williams scored 20 and 18 respectively on 10 of 15 from three between the two players.
“Jansen is going to be a player,” D’Antoni said. “You can see it, he’s improving already. He hit some big shots tonight added six rebounds, he’s going to be a good one. But, we’ve got to have others step up, especially now that we’re so thin as far as depth goes inside.”
It just wasn’t Marshall’s night and those bright spots weren’t nearly enough in a game where the Herd was never really competitive.
D’Antoni’s team will have to put this game out of its collective mind quickly as the Herd goes on the road for the first time in conference play for a two game road swing starting Thursday night against Charlotte.
“Unless they decide to make that game count for two losses we will be alright,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a long season and it’s one loss. We’ll see what happens the rest of the way. Got to take the good with the bad and this was pretty bad tonight. But, we’ll keep working and we’ll get better and that starts against Charlotte.”