Jeff Boals knows what to expect on Sunday when his Bobcats (4-1) head down the Ohio River into Huntington, W.Va. for a matinee battle with the undefeated Thundering Herd (3-0).
“I was down there for four years as an assistant coach,” Boals said Thursday. “I know what their fan base is like.”
Yes, Boals referred to fans. Ohio will play in front of a substantial number of spectators for the first time this year when the teams tip off at 2 p.m. at the Cam Henderson Center. Marshall is allowing up 1,300 fans to attend games.
It’s a stark difference to what Ohio has faced so far. Illinois had virtually no one in the house during a three-day event to open the season. And Ohio isn’t allowing anyone other than media, game day personnel and a limited number of family to attend games in the Convo until further notice.
Boals, who worked with the Herd from 1999-2003, is familiar with the loud and rowdy nature of Marshall crowds. It will add an interesting dynamic to what already was an intriguing nonconference matchup.
The Herd are thought to be contenders in Conference USA this season with four starters returning from a year ago for veteran head coach Dan D’Antoni. D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offensive approach is still prevalent, and he has a new stable of players to make it go.
“They’re going to want to out score you. Whoever can get defensive stops…sometimes they’re going to play five guards and space you out and all five of them can shoot 3s,” Boals said.
Senior point guard Jarrod West (15.7 ppg) organizes the chaos, senior forward Darius George (12.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) works the backboard and fifth-year center Jannson Williams (6-9) has a chance to break the program’s blocked shots record this season.
But, oddly given D’Antoni’s preference for 3-pointers, the biggest weapon this season has been junior guard Taevion Kinsey. A 6-5 combo player out of Columbus, Kinsey is averaging 20.3 points per game this season while shooting 61.1 percent from the field – and has take just one 3-pointer all season.
Boals first noticed Kinsey more than five years ago, when was an assistant at Ohio State.
“When I was at Ohio State we were looking at him. When I went to Stony Brook I knew we couldn’t get him,” Boals said. “I loved his upside. I thought he was going to continue to get better and better and better, and he has.”
The game could be the last nonconference game of the year for Ohio, which has seen a scheduled game on Dec. 18 canceled due to travel issues surrounding the ongoing pandemic. It’ll also be a good test against another quality mid-major program.
So far, Ohio has faced four teams it ‘supposed’ to beat, and one it wasn’t. And the schedule has played out that way. This one? It figures to be a coin flip.
“You’re playing a top of the league caliber kind of team,” Boals said.
Marshall remains Ohio’s longest, and most played, rival outside of the MAC. Sunday’s meeting will be the 105th between the programs, and OU leads the series 56-48.
The Bobcats won the last matchup, in 2018, with a 101-84 romp in the Convo. Marshall took the last meeting in Huntington, 99-96 in overtime, in 2017.
Ohio junior guard Jason Preston leads Ohio with 19.4 points per game, and is also averaging 6.2 rebounds and 8.4 assists per contest. Through five games, Preston is shooting an absurd 62.1 percent overall, and 52.9 percent from 3-point range.
Preston leads four players in double figures, including newcomer Dwight Wilson III. Wilson, a grad transfer, is averaging 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game after posting consecutive double-doubles.
“It’s crazy because (Wilson) can get a lot better,” Preston said. “And he’s great already, right now.”
Marshall enters with a six-game winning streak, dating back to last season. The Herd have posted wins this season over Arkansas State, Wright State and beat the College of Charleston (84-72) on Wednesday.
Boals said he’s still searching for another game to add between now and the schedule MAC opener – set for Dec. 22 at Akron.
Boals would also like to get sophomore wing Ben Roderick (knee) back in action. He sat out Thursday’s home win over Purdue Northwest.
“He’s been doing some workout stuff, nothing 5v5. Hopefully we get him back soon,” Boals said Thursday.