Marshall's injuries have mounted up better than its win this season. It started with Markel Humphreys pre-season stress fracture in the left foot, and he got back into practice the week of the opening game with WVU Tech. Tyler Wilkerson broke a bone in his hand early in the pre-season practice and was out for the first exhibition and much of the pre-season. At Daytona Beach for three games in the Glenn Wilkes Classic, Purdue transfer Chris Lutz played in the first game but was only about half-speed with a hamstring injury that would cause him to miss the next two games in Daytona and two more. Head coach Donnie Jones still lists Lutz at 85-to-90 percent healthy.
A week later, sophomore transfer Brandon Powell, who came with Jones from Florida, was released from the team for undisclosed team violations. Then, freshman Dago Pena suffered a separated shoulder that caused him to miss two games and two weeks of practice. Pena is wearing a shoulder harness to play in still. A bout of the flu made its way through the team, and even Jones fought a sinus infection while the Herd was picking up a road win at Boston University. Just before Christmas, Humphrey was re-injured when he suffered a deep bone bruise, again in his left foot and was forced to leave the Dayton loss with about six minutes left, leaving the Herd to go nine minutes without scoring in a 62-50 loss in a game that was 40-40 with 12 minutes to play.
After Christmas, the injury bug struck again when freshman guard Shaquille Johnson sprained his ankle so severely on Dec. 27 that he would not practice again until Jan. 1 before the San Diego game. Johnson had been in double figures six of the first seven games, but then didn't score at all against Ohio (before the holidays), scored only five at Dayton and none again against Tennessee State on Dec. 28. Tyler Wilkerson also hit a wall in the holiday games, picking up only four points and seven rebounds total in games at Dayton and against the TSU Tigers.
The Herd now faces the best team in Conference USA to open league play on Wednesday with Humphrey as a question mark who did not practice on Sunday, was injected to try and reduce swelling on Monday and who is not expected to practice Tuesday or Wednesday at the gameday shoot-around. The senior forward is a game time decision as Marshall faces 10-3 Memphis. The Tigers are 54-1 against C-USA since the Herd and five other teams joined the league in 2005-06 and are 32-0 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. The Tigers were the national runner's up last year in overtime to NCAA Champion Kansas.
Damier Pitts has been the Herd's starting point guard as a true freshman, and scored 14 points in loss at San Diego, all in the second half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Now, in addition to Humphrey, the Herd will not have 6-foot-10 center Marcus Goode for the Memphis game. "Marcus is having knee surgery today," said Jones on the first C-USA basketball coaches conference call. "He has a meniscus tear in his right knee." Goode did not play in either the Tennessee State or San Diego games, due to knee pain, and the tear was found with a follow-up MRI after the Herd returned from a 80-70 loss to the Toreros on the West Coast.
Marcus Goode had 11 points against Old Dominion, but is now out with a knee surgery until at least early February. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"Shaquille didn't practice until the Thursday before the San Diego game," said Jones, "but we hope he will be full-go for Memphis Wednesday. Humphrey did not practice yesterday and will not practice Monday or Tuesday. He received an injection for the inflammation in his foot. It's a lot like last year." Humphrey missed three games with a stress fracture in the right foot last year, then returned to lead the Herd to a 16-14 mark, the first winning season in seven years, and was named All-Conference USA.
"It's more of a severe problem this year," said Jones of the bone bruise and stress fracture this season. "He wants to play through the pain, but we have to sit him down and rest him awhile. We need to get him healthy." Jones knows if he loses Humphrey's 11 points per game, he will need even more from Lutz, but the pair of players had only two points each at San Diego as each hit just 1-of-7 shots. Tirrell Baines had no points and one rebound in the game that saw the Herd rally from 31 down with under eight minutes to play to cut the lead to seven with just under a minute left before losing.
"Chris bring experience. He played at Purdue, unlike some of our other transfers," said Jones of Lutz, who led the Big Ten in three-point shooting two seasons ago. "He is 22-years old, and is like a fifth-year guy because he played a year at prep school." Lutz's experience is big for a team who will now play all four true freshmen more than expected - Damier Pitts, Kore White, Johnson and Pena. "Chris is a calming force for our young guys. Pitts is playing nearly 35 minutes per game at point guard, and the others will have to play more. Chris is about 85 percent (from the hamstring pull), and it is hard for him to go full-out."
Chris Lutz hit this runner in the lane to help keep Marshall out in front of Tennessee State late in the second half of The Herd's 74-60 win. The Herd needs Lutz big-time for game Wednesday at Memphis. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Still, Jones is not down on his junior guard after one off night in California. "He is one of the best shooters in the country," said Jones. "He had a tough night in San Diego, but he remains a consistent, good shooter." Even with the misses, Lutz is still hitting 47 percent from three, which with more games played would still be second best in C-USA.
One guy who came back with a double-double was Wilkerson at San Diego. He recorded his ninth career double-double with 22 points and 15 rebounds, which equaled his best rebounding night of the season that came against Ole Miss in Daytona Beach in a four-point loss. Wilkerson was just about a one-man gang in the first half for Marshall, scoring ten of the Herd's season-low 17 first half points against the Toreros. It was the worst half of basketball for the Herd since they scored just 18 points in the second half against Memphis last season in Huntington.
Now, it's back to the FedEx Forum where in the last game there, No. 8 seed Marshall was upset by No. 9 Tulane and were one-and-out for the third time in four years at the Conference USA Tournament. Now the Herd has to face the Tigers, who on Saturday got a triple-double from Antonio Anderson (12 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds) in a 108-75 victory over Lamar, the first triple-double at Memphis since Anfernee Hardaway did it in 1993.
"It's a tough challenge, after playing a tough San Diego team," said Jones of his second match-up with the Tigers. "Humphrey may not play Wednesday, so we may start three freshmen in a tough environment. Our young guys have gotten a lot of experience this year and we've played in some good road games." Marshall won at Boston U., but lost at Dayton and at San Diego.
"There is a lot more parity and I've really been impressed with the league in the games I've seen, like the big win by Southern Miss at Ole Miss," said Jones. "The talent is really increased league-wide and every night is going to be a tough game. You've got to take care of the home court and win games you can on road. We hoped going into league play we would have won some big games, but injuries and youth have slowed us down. There are a lot of teams playing well, and we might just beat each other up (in league play). But I still think there is a chance to two to get in the NCAA Tournament, and three is not out of the realm of possibilities."
Marshall will bus to Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday for a flight to Memphis, a 9 p.m. tip-off on Wednesday on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network (locally on ESPN 930 AM and The Dawg, 93.7 FM) and seen on CSS (Comcast Cable channel 68). Marshall returns home Thursday, then faces East Carolina on Saturday at 3 p.m., a game broadcast on CBS College Sports (Comcast channel 174).