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Marshall returns to action with tough challenge at Appalachian State

— By Bill Cornwell

An eight-day break between games has come to an end for Marshall as the Herd continues a three-game road swing Thursday night at Appalachian State.

The game tips off at 6:30 p.m. at the Holmes Convocation Center in Boone, North Carolina and can be seen on ESPN+.

Marshall (12-13, 7-5) is coming off of an 82-66 loss at Troy on February 7, while the Mountaineers (20-5, 10-2) knocked off Toledo 109-104 in double overtime Saturday in the MAC/Sun Belt Challenge.

Appalachian State is tied with Troy atop the Sun Belt Conference standings. Marshall is three games back and tied with Southern Mississippi for fifth.

Appalachian State’s win over Toledo was part of a 10-2 mark for Sun Belt teams against MAC squads, with 11 games played last Saturday and one Sunday. The only two Sun Belt losses — suffered by Old Dominion against Central Michigan and Georgia Southern against Buffalo — were by one point.

“How about that weak Sun Belt,” Herd head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “We went 10-2 against a good mid-major conference with two one-point losses and seven blowout wins. This is a tough league but what hurts it is scheduling issues and losing to non-conference Power 5 schools.”

D’Antoni gave his team last weekend off in an effort to recharge before the stretch run of the regular season. He’s hopeful he’ll see a more focused team against the Mountaineers.

“We’ve got to be better than what we did last week,” D’Antoni said. “We saw things that we’ve worked on in practice. I trust my kids. I like my team and I trust them to do the right things.”

Appalachian State head coach Dustin Kerns has led a major program turnaround this season, highlighted by strong play in the Sun Belt as well as non-conference wins over Auburn, UNC-Wilmington, Murray State and Austin Peay.

Kerns is in his fith year at Appalachian State and has a 90-63 record in Boone. He’s now tied with former ASU and Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Cremins in wins at ASU.

Three Mountaineers average scoring in double-figures per game — junior forward Tre’von Spillers (13.4 points), graduate forward Donovan Gregory (12.7 ppg) and junior guard Terence Harcum (11.8 ppg). Spillers is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.2 per game and followed closely by sophomore forward Justin Abson at 7.4.

Abson is leading the Sun Belt Conference with 81 blocked shots for an average of 3.2 per game.

Marshall continues to feature four double-figure scorers, led by junior forward Obinna Anochili-Killen (16.6 ppg). The others are graduate guard Kevon Voyles (13.8 ppg), senior guard Kamdyn Curfman (13.2 ppg) and junior forward Nate Martin (11.2 ppg). Martin is still the Herd’s top rebounder at 9.6 per game, good for third in the conference.

Marshall and Appalachian State have met 52 previous times and the Thundering has won 34 of the matchups. Marshall swept both games against the Mountaineers last season, winning 79-53 in Huntington and 66-58 in Boone.

After Thursday’s game, Marshall wraps up its road trip at Coastal Carolina on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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Marshall’s Sun Belt Conference-leading women’s basketball team is also playing at Appalachian State on Thursday.

The noon tipoff is Education Day at ASU.

Like the men’s team, Marshall (17-6, 11-1) last played on February 7, defeating Louisiana 74-42 in Huntington.

Appalachian State (13-11, 6-6) defeated Western Michigan 78-68 in a MAC/Sun Belt Conference Challenge contest.

Marshall played host to the Mountaineers in Huntington on January 31 and won, 81-69.

Marshall is ranked No. 21 in this week’s CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 Poll.

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