The Marshall University men’s basketball team was playing arguably as well as it had at any point this season prior to last week’s cancellation of the Thundering Herd’s pair of games in Texas due to COVID issues at Rice.
With the unexpected — but by now, not unusual — break now in the past, MU is faced with its return to action coming against one of Conference USA’s top teams.
North Texas, the team currently at the top of the C-USA West Division standings, visits Marshall (12-5, 6-4 C-USA) for a pair of games this weekend at MU’s Cam Henderson Center in Huntington following an unexpected break of its own as the Mean Green (12-6, 8-2 C-USA) had its games last week against C-USA East-leading Western Kentucky called off due to the poor weather that caused widespread problems in Texas.
UNT comes into the pair of games at Marshall having won eight of its last 10 games with the Mean Green’s two C-USA setbacks coming at home against Louisiana Tech on Feb. 6 and on Jan. 9 at UTSA.
This weekend’s series will be somewhat a clash of styles. Marshall leads C-USA at 82.5 points per game while North Texas is in the middle of the pack at 72.3 points per game. UNT, however, is second in the league at 61.6 points allowed per game and is one of just three C-USA teams winning by an average margin of at least 10 points (the Herd is fourth with an average margin of victory of 9.4 points).
MU coach Dan D’Antoni acknowledged the differences in style during his weekly video meeting with local media but said he thinks his team has the ability to adapt and win to whatever style of play they are up against. D’Antoni said his team is better setup for a wide-open, high-scoring game but can play with North Texas’ hard-nosed, slower pace as well.
“We play the way the game is played and whoever it is we’re playing,” D’Antoni said. “We can play a 60 [point] game or a 100 [point] game. If they’re shooting quick, we’re shooting quick. If they’re not, maybe we are maybe not.
“We’re not totally controlled by pace. We play with the flow of the game, whomever we’re playing. I think we’re capable of doing that and we’ve showed it over the years. We’ve beaten Old Dominion a lot the times in the 60s. I do think if it gets into a wide-open game that we have a better chance of winning and we’re probably more likely to win, but we’re capable of playing a slower place and winning ballgames.”
The last time Marshall and North Texas met was last season when the Mean Green came to Huntington to open C-USA play last season with a 67-64 win against the Herd that standout junior guard Taevion Kinsey — currently tied for the league-lead in scoring at 20.4 points per game — did not need to be reminded of.
“They beat us last year, and they beat us in a close game at that,” Kinsey said. “It came down to the wire. They hit a tough shot to basically ice the game, then they hit a couple free throws. I’ll never forget that, so I’m just going to go in with the mentality that we’ve got to get some payback this year.”
North Texas, led by guard Javion Hamlet, then went on to claim C-USA’s regular-season championship last season. Hamlet, who won last season’s Conference USA Player of the Year award, is back and has again been a force to be reckoned with for the Mean Green.
UNT, however, is no one-man squad. Senior guard Reese James is the team’s second-leading scorer behind Hamlet at 10.8 points per game while senior forward Zachary Simmons averages 10.4 points per game. Plus, as mentioned previously, the Mean Green can rebound and play some mean “D” too.
“North Texas, we have to match their energy and box out their bigs because they’re coming to the glass every time,” MU sophomore guard Andrew Taylor said. “Then we have got to turn around and guard Hamlet coming up the floor or off a ball screen or whatever it is. It’s going to be a really wide variety of things that they do that we’re going to have to be able to defend.”
Friday’s game between Marshall and North Texas is scheduled to tip at 7 p.m. in Huntington with Saturday’s game slated for a 2 p.m. start. Broadcasts of both games will be available to stream on ESPN+.