RICHMOND, Ky. — Marshall’s men’s basketball had heard all the talk coming in about what their game was.
On Saturday, though, the Thundering Herd simply decided to switch it up.
Marshall’s defense on the perimeter did not allow Eastern Kentucky’s shooters any room, which led to transition opportunities and easy baskets on the offensive end in an 80-69 win over the Colonels at McBrayer Arena in Richmond, Kentucky.
“We were switching up and I think we got better at it,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “It took a while because we played different, defensively, than normal. We were switching everything.”
Marshall (7-3) dominated on both ends in the second half, using its defense to force Eastern Kentucky out of its norm offensively.
The Herd’s ability to switch everything on the perimeter forced the Colonels to drive inside where the length of Marshall — namely, Obinna Anochili-Killen — disrupted any interior opportunities for Eastern Kentucky (5-6), who lost its fifth straight game. Killen, the nation’s leading shot-blocker, finished with six blocks for the Herd.
Marshall’s defense was a two-fold victory against the Colonels. Forcing the Colonels into tough shots led to misses, which did not allow Eastern Kentucky to set up its full-court pressure, which it relies on heavily to turn teams over.
The Herd’s ability to force EKU into tough shots also combined with a concerted job to control the glass. Marshall out-rebounded the Colonels, 31-12, in the second half, which turned the game decisively in the Herd’s favor.
Regardless of make or miss for Eastern Kentucky, Marshall was intent on forcing the tempo, somewhat giving the Colonels a taste of their own medicine.
The game’s pivotal effort came from Marshall guard Andrew Taylor, who was able to get possession and push the pace well for the Herd offense.
Marshall’s ability to push the pace had Eastern Kentucky chasing on the defensive end, which led to many odd-man scenarios. The Herd finished with 12 dunks in the win.
“We told them all week preparing for this game, we are going to be aggressive,” D’Antoni said. “When it gets through, we are going to the rim or getting a three.”
Taylor said EKU’s style played into the Herd’s hands on Saturday night.
“If teams are going to press us, we’re going to go,” Taylor said. “We’re not going to stop. If you play timid, you’re going to turn it over. We did turn it over a couple times, but that’s going to happen when being pressed 40 minutes.”
The result of that gameplan was 56 of Marshall’s 80 points coming in the paint.
Taevion Kinsey led the way with 21 points while Taylor had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Darius George also posted the first double-double of his career with 13 points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
The game started at a frenetic pace with Eastern Kentucky knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the game’s first two minutes while George added a pair of dunks.
George’s third dunk of the game came just three minutes in and started a 9-0 run in which Marshall took the lead for good.
“I just had to come with energy, come out with great intensity and keep crashing the glass — what I’m good at,” George said. “I’ve just got to keep playing my role.
It was at that point that Marshall felt like it would be a good night as the defense turned up and the offense kept attacking the basket.
Eastern Kentucky went nearly 23 minutes between made 3-point attempts in the contest.
The Colonels’ Jomaru Brown hit a 3-pointer with 10:29 left in the first half, but the next converted 3-point attempt did not come until Russhard Cruickshank connected with 7:47 left in the game.
Marshall took a 38-35 lead to the locker room as the Colonels struggled to find their mark. EKU hit just five of 26 3-point attempts in the loss.
Brown led the Colonels with 23 points off the bench while Devontae Blanton added 10.
Killen added 10 points, seven rebounds and six blocks for the Herd in the win.
Eastern Kentucky’s Jannson Williams, a graduate transfer from Marshall, finished with seven points and three rebounds.
The game was expected to mark the debut of EKU’s Iran Bennett — also a Marshall graduate transfer — but Bennett missed the game due to an undisclosed illness, according to head coach A.W. Hamilton.
Marshall has now won seven of the last eight meetings between the teams.
The Herd’s next matchup will be another regional rivalry as Marshall travels to the Convocation Center to take on Ohio University at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in Athens, Ohio.