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MU bench was key to vital win

February 17, 2019
Marshall Rondale Watson signals after knocking down a 3-point basket against Middle Tennessee in a Conference USA men's basketball game Saturday at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington. Watson came off the bench to score 17 points in the Thundering Herd's win.

It was Marshall University’s best team win of the 2018-19 season.

Key word?

Team.

Sure, the Thundering Herd had 13 previous wins before defeating Middle Tennessee, 98-93, Saturday afternoon in Cam Henderson Center. But none of those victories were as big from a team win standpoint as the triumph over the Blue Raiders.

There are two definitive reasons why it is true.

For the first time all season, Marshall had six players in double figures. C.J. Burks led with 20 points, followed by Jon Elmore with 19, Jannson Williams with 16 and Darius George with 11 points.

The other two?

They both came off the bench. Rondale Watson scored 17 points in only 20 minutes and Taevion Kinsey had 13 points.

Now, reason No. 2.

Marshall outscored Middle Tennessee 30-11 in the benchpoints category. That is the Herd’s biggest margin in bench points all season.

That’s right — all season.

Which unequivocally makes this Marshall’s best team win. That’s also because bench scoring has been one of the Herd’s weaknesses all season.

A breakdown of the schedule reveals Marshall has won the bench-scoring battle only 13 times while losing it in 14 games. That trend also has carried over to Conference USA play. The Herd has lost the bench scoring category eight times, while winning it in only six games.

In fact, during the recent skid of losing seven of eight games, Marshall won the bench-scoring battle on only three occasions.

That’s why the bench’s contribution Saturday afternoon was so significant.

Just ask Elmore.

Hey, Jon, did you take a look at the bench-points category?

“I did,” said the senior point guard enthusiastically. “Like Rondale said, we got contributions from everybody. Look at the scoring — 16, 11, 19, 20, 13, 17.

“When we get guys contributing every night, one-through-how many ever guys played (eight), ... when you come in with energy, you run our system, you believe in yourself and believe in what we’re trying to do as a team, I think we’re as good as anybody in the country. I’m going to stick to that.”

Then it was time to drop the other sneaker.

How about having six double-figure scorers?

“I don’t know if we have done that all year, have we?” asked Elmore. “We haven’t? So, anytime we have guys focused and locked in like that, coach puts us in advantageous situations, everybody moves the ball, shares the ball and we all reap the benefit of each other’s success. We don’t care who scores. We don’t care who gets the assists. We just want to win.

“At the end of the day it was a great win. We just have to keep rolling.”

And keep getting contributions from a bench that has been rather shallow on occasion.

But coach Danny D’Antoni’ decision to give sophomore forward Darius George the first starting assignment of his career altered the depth.

Although it moved Kinsey from the starting lineup, it also paired the dynamic 6-foot-5 true freshman with the 6-4 Watson to give Marshall some instant offense off the bench.

Better still, other than center, both Kinsey and Watson can play every position in Marshall’s offense.

The duo, paired with hardnosed 6-5 junior Christian Thieneman, gave the Herd a real boost with a combined 45 minutes of play off the bench.

It’s a team game and this was a team win.

The best of the season.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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