Charlotte visits Marshall (8-9) in Huntington, WV looking to remain undefeated in Conference-USA play.
“I’m happy with where we are right now,” said Charlotte Head Coach Ron Sanchez. “It’s still very early in the season, but generally I’m thankful for the position we’re in. I’m looking forward to continuing our journey and growth.”
The Thundering Herd are a much more competitive team than their record would indicate. In non-conference play, Marshall narrowly lost to the then No. 24 Florida Gators on the road and defeated Middle Tennessee State on the road.
Led by a dynamic backcourt duo comprised of guards Taevion Kinsey and Jarrod West, the Thundering Herd’s offense averages 75.3 points per game, fifth-most in C-USA. Kinsey and West are averaging 14.9 and 14.4 points per game, respectively.
“Marshall is really good offensively,” said Sanchez. “They have four guys averaging double figures. Their offense is challenging because they have some false actions and some slips. Their guards are creative and athletic; their post player is really good in the interior.”
However, as exhibited in the 49ers’ previous matchup -- where Old Dominion took 22 of their 78 three-point attempts on the season -- Charlotte’s pack-line defense forces offenses to make shots from beyond the arc. Despite having a high-scoring offense, the Thundering Herd have struggled from behind the arc, making only 29.3 percent of their three-point attempts. Charlotte’s suffocating defense should thrive against a Marshall squad that is reliant upon mid-range jumpers, scoring off of cuts to the basket, and post play from bigs.
“We’re defending well. Not because of me; we’re defending well because of their effort,” said Sanchez. “It’s their effort. It’s their buy-in, It’s their commitment to the defensive side that’s allowing us to have success.”
Iran Bennett and Janson Willaims, two 6’9” post players, anchor the Thundering Herd’s stout defense with 27 and 19 blocks, respectively. Marshall enters the matchup No. 5 in the nation in blocks per game with 6.5. Still, scoring on the Thundering Herd’s perimeter defense isn’t much easier as Marshall has held opposing offenses to 32.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Marshall’s perimeter defense is spearheaded by West, who is currently tied for No. 7 in the nation in total steals with 43. As a team, Marshall ranks No. 10 in the nation in total steals with 164.
Jahmir Young and Jordan Shepherd, the 49ers’ primary ball-handlers, will need to continue to limit their turnovers. However, if floor-spacing shooters Cooper Robb and Malik Martin continue to shoot at a high percentage from beyond the arc, that should help alleviate congested driving lanes for Young and Shepherd. This will make it easier for them to find the open man.
“Shep (Jordan Shepherd) is back,” said Sanchez. “He still has limit restrictions. We won’t know [his limits] really until Thursday morning, but he will play.”
Tip-off for the 49ers’ matchup against Marshall on Jan. 16 is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Huntington, WV.