Watson knows how to play
HUNTINGTON — NBA Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni gave a thumbs up to Rondale Watson after the junior’s Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball debut Tuesday night.
Watson’s wait to reclaim eligibility for games since enrolling in June 2016 as a transfer from Wake Forest University lasted 18 months because of NCAA transfer rules and an academic issue. The junior from Lewisburg, W.Va., made his first semester grades and was able to play for the first time Tuesday in the game at No. 9 Xavier University, which slipped past Marshall, 81-77.
The 6-foot-4 guard came from off the bench to play for 31 minutes and tossed in 10 points.
EASTERN KENTUCKY (6-6) AT MARSHALL (8-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Cam Henderson Center
RADIO: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930- AM, WMUL 88.1-FM
Mike D’Antoni watched the FS1 telecast and called his brother, Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni, afterward.
“He knows how to play,” Dan D’Antoni said. “Mike called me after the game. He said Rondale plays hard like you’re supposed to play, and that means good defense.”
Watson, who was able to practice with the Herd throughout his layoff, said he joins with freshman guard Jarrod West to lead by example and bring defensive intensity to the team.
Marshall (8-4) plays its final non-conference game at 7 p.m. Friday against Eastern Kentucky University (6-6) in Cam Henderson Center to begin a four-game home stretch. Marshall moves into its Conference USA schedule Thursday against Southern Miss, Saturday, Dec. 30 against Louisiana Tech and Saturday, Jan. 6 against Western Kentucky.
Watson made 35 game appearances in two Wake Forest seasons (2015-16 and 2014-15). He scored 90 points (2.6 average) and snagged 46 rebounds (1.3) in 12.0 minutes per game for the Atlantic Coast Conference school. His last game before Tuesday was March 8, 2016, against N.C. State in the ACC tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
The game at Xavier was similar to an ACC game where Wake Forest faced a ranked opponent on any given night, Watson said. D’Antoni sent him into the game at 15:36 of the first half.
“I was nervous, but I got out there and started sweating a little bit and felt a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I was definitely nervous. Even though I’m one of the older guys (20) it’s still nerve wracking going into a game like that in a hostile environment such as Xavier.
“I just wanted to go in there and stay composed and poised and try to do the best job I could.”
Watson connected for a 3-point field goal almost immediately. In the second half after Xavier built a 23-point advantage Watson converted a West steal with two free throws that pulled Marshall within 60-48 with 10:15 remaining. Watson hit another 3-point shot that cut the deficit to 62-53 with 8:05 left in the game.
His final points on a backdoor cut for a layup with Jon Elmore’s feed made it 72-60 with 3:37 to go.
“It was a long wait,” said Watson, who was able to practice with the Herd during his layoff. “I praised God. He had a plan for me from the jump to come back stronger and make sure I was ready.”
D’Antoni expects Watson to provide the kind of energy he thought was missing last season when Eastern Kentucky defeated Marshall, 89-80, at McBrayer Arena in Richmond, Ky.
Marshall has the No. 10 offense in the nation (89.1 average) with five players carrying double-figure averages. Elmore, a 6-3 junior point guard, is sixth nationally (23.5) and joined by 6-9 junior forward Ajdin Penava (19.6), 6-4 junior guard C.J. Burks (19.5), 5-11 West (10.6) and, now, Watson (10.0).
Elmore is also seventh in the nation for assists (7.6) and the NCAA leader for free throws made and attempted at 103-for-125. Penava, the C-USA Player of the Week, is the NCAA leader with 55 blocked shots and blocks per game with 4.58.
Eastern Kentucky won its last two game at Charleston Southern (70-65) and at home Monday against Norfolk State (83-66).
Nick Mayo, a 6-9, 240-pound junior for the Colonels hit for 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds last season against the Herd. Mayo has season averages of 16.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. He leads the team in points, rebounds, field goals (71), free throws (48), field goal percentage (54.2) and average minutes (33.5).
Head coach Dan McHale’s club also has 6-4 freshman Dedric Boyd scoring 15.2 per game and 6-6 sophomore DeAndre Dishman at 10.3 with 5.6 rebounds.
The Colonels have already played two C-USA teams. They won their opener at Rice (73-72) and lost Nov. 29 at Western Kentucky (83-51).