HUNTINGTON — For 30 minutes on Friday afternoon, Marshall’s offense struggled to find its rhythm.
The timing was slow, the shot selection was spotty at best and the sync just wasn’t where Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni wanted it to be.
Over a key three-minute stretch, though, the Thundering Herd showed that it can still be explosive with several different weapons showing up at any time.
Forward Darius George came off the bench and scored 11 of his 15 points during a 20-5 run in which Marshall took control in a 70-56 win over Arkansas State in front of a limited, socially-distanced crowd at the Cam Henderson Center.
“It means a lot to me personally, especially with everything going on this year,” George said. “We don’t know if we’re going to play or not. Knowing that we had a game today, you’ve got to come out and play hard because you never know what will happen with COVID(-19).”
Marshall has already seen the effects of COVID-19 on its basketball season with a pair of separate two-week stoppages in practice and the game schedule already having been altered twice.
With that knowledge, George said making the most of opportunities was at the front of his mind.
George turned that mentality to production, finishing 6-of-6 from the floor to finish with 15 points while adding five rebounds in the win.
“What a great young man,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “He’s great for this program and I’m happy for him. He comes in off the bench, he never has an attitude, plays his way into minutes every time I challenge him and he just accepts it with a grin and plays hard.”
The game’s turning point came courtesy from the combination of George and point guard Jarrod West, who have been together since playing AAU prior to joining the Herd.
With Marshall leading 44-39, George and West worked the pick-and-roll to perfection as West got the corner and drove before lobbing the ball up.
George got up over two Arkansas State defenders who were late to recover for a one-handed slam, plus a foul that changed the game.
“We have good chemistry, so going through the pick-and-rolls, I know what he reads and he knows what I read,” George said. “We have to keep doing that throughout the season.”
From there, the Herd energy rose on both ends with steals leading to easy transition looks. A Mikel Beyers’ 3-pointer with 5:13 left gave Marshall (1-0) its biggest advantage at 62-44 — just five minutes after it had been a one-possession game.
Marshall had six dunks during that 20-5 run with three coming off steals.
“I thought defensively we played well,” D’Antoni said. “They had two all-conference guards that were coming back. They are penetrating guards and create a lot of havoc and I thought we handled it pretty well.”
Marshall got game-high numbers from guard Taevion Kinsey, who finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.
Kinsey showed some toughness in the contest after being forced to leave the game early.
After waiting for eight months to get on the floor, Kinsey headed to the locker room just 90 seconds into the game after he and Arkansas State’s Christian Willis collided heads on a loose-ball scramble that left both bleeding on the Henderson Center floor.
Kinsey emerged with a big bandage over his left eye, but did not let the injury deter him, getting back into the flow midway through the first half before emerging after halftime with 11 points and six rebounds after the break.
“I tried to get them to hurry up and stitch me up really fast so I could get back out there,” Kinsey said after the game. “I really couldn’t feel anything because adrenaline was pumping. It’s a pretty good cut.”
Despite the slow start, West engineered Marshall’s attack on both ends, finishing with nine points, eight assists and five steals in the win.
West’s defense also was crucial in disrupting the flow of Arkansas State (0-1), who featured a pair of all-league guards within the Sun Belt Conference in Marquis Eaton and Caleb Fields.
Eaton finished with 13 points and Fields with 12, but the two combined for 11 turnovers in the Red Wolves’ loss.
D’Antoni said he wanted energy on both ends to start the game, and West provided that, along with veteran presence. That was crucial, especially with a young addition to the starting lineup on the floor.
Freshman forward Obinna Anochili-Killen moved into the starting lineup after impressing in the preseason.
Early, Anochili-Killen showed some of the skill-set that earned his spot, scoring the team’s first points of the year on a dunk down the lane following a feed from West.
The Chapmanville product finished with eight points, three rebounds and three blocks in his collegiate debut.
Marshall is scheduled to return to the floor on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. game at Wright State.