By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Marshall’s only chance at finding itself in a postseason bracket will require an improbable run to the Conference USA Tournament championship and its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Step one of that arduous task would be tonight, when the Thundering Herd takes on Florida Atlantic in a first-round game at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas. Tip-off for the nontelevised game will be 8 p.m. Eastern.
The Herd goes in as the 14th seed in the 15-team tournament after a horrendous season that saw it go 10-21 overall and just 4-12 in C-USA. FAU (10-21, 5-11) is the 11th seed.
The winner will take on No. 6 Old Dominion — one of five teams to receive a bye into the second round — at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Wednesday.
Also receiving first-round byes were No. 5 UTEP (tournament host), No. 7 Tulane, No. 8 UAB and No. 9 Charlotte.
Already in the quarterfinals are the top four — Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss.
Having to win five games in five days would be quite the accomplishment on its own. Considering Marshall hasn’t won more than two in a row this season, and is 2-13 on the road, the odds of any kind of magic happening are certainly slim.
“We’ll worry about winning the first game on Tuesday and our goal is to stay in El Paso, Texas, for a long time next week,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said after last Thursday’s 74-70 loss to Charlotte in the regular season finale. “Our guys will be ready for it. It’s (a lot of the players’) first time in a conference tournament and getting our guys away for a bit will be good for us.”
Marshall trailed Charlotte 70-59 with 1:41 to go before a late comeback attempt fell short.
“For some reason we always wait until the last seven minutes to play hard,” said redshirt freshman point guard Kareem Canty, who had 22 points and seven assists against the 49ers. “I just know it’s something we better work on come tournament time, or we’ll be sent home quick.”
Canty, who became the third freshman in Marshall history to score 500 points in a season, will start tonight. He leads the Herd with 16.4 points and 5.7 assists per game. The assist total is third in C-USA.
On Monday, Canty was selected as an All-C-USA third-teamer.
Joining Canty tonight will be guard Chris Thomas (12.7 ppg, 4.0 rebounds), and forwards Ryan Taylor (13.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Shawn Smith (7.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Cheikh Sane (3.2, 5.2).
The Herd lost 65-57 to FAU on Feb. 1. The Owls are coached by Mike Jarvis, who announced on Feb. 28 that he will resign after the season is over to pursue other basketball opportunities. He is 76-111 in six seasons at FAU and has a career record of 395-313 that includes a successful stint at St. John’s.
The Owls are led by senior guard Pablo Bertone, a league first-teamer who averages 18.9 ppg, and 6-foot-9 center Justin Raffington at 10.3 rebounds.
Canty’s frustrations have been well documented, but he still hasn’t given up hope.
“We’re as talented as any team in the conference. We just have to believe and play like it,” Canty said. “Marshall has done it before. I feel we can do the same thing if we just believe.”
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