Missouri State was scheduled at home against Evansville in a Missouri Valley Conference game on Jan. 14, 2015. The Bears were struggling and coach Paul Lusk and leading scorer Marcus Marshall had some issues that were never fully explained.
Marshall was suspended for the Evansville game for “conduct detrimental to the team.’’ It was strictly a basketball conflict, not an off-the-court issue.
Three days later, it was announced by Missouri State that Marshall was going to leave the program and transfer. The 6-foot-3 guard who had played at St. Paul Johnson was taking with him a 19.8 scoring average.
The complication was Marshall would have sit out a transfer year before playing a senior season for a new school in 2016-17 -- meaning two years on scholarship for one season. There were numerous teams willing to do that, perhaps including Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State and Creighton.
Those were four teams Nevada claimed that new coach Eric Musselman had beaten out to bring Marshall to Reno. Musselman had been hired on March 26, 2015 and Marshall became his first official recruit five weeks later.
“Sitting out a whole year was tough at times for Marcus, but he kept the goal in front of him – to play on a team with well-balanced talent and with a chance to win,’’ said Will Marshall, his father.
Exactly two years after missing that Evansville game, Marcus was scoring 32 points in Nevada’s 89-74 victory over Wyoming on Saturday night in Laramie. The Wolf Pack is now 15-3 overall and 4-1 in the Mountain West, including an epic victory over New Mexico on Jan. 7.
Nevada was coming off a victory over San Diego State, a Mountain West power, three nights earlier and showed up flat for the game at New Mexico. The Wolf Pack was down by 25 points with 11 minutes left and still trailed by 14 with 89 seconds to go.
Charlie Tooley, a seldom-used freshman, hit a three-pointer with 63 seconds left to cut the lead to 11. Musselman called a timeout after the basket and waved Marshall back into the game.
As Musselman told the story, Marshall asked an assistant, “Why is Coach Muss putting me back in?’’
Musselman overheard this and said, “Just get in there and knock down a couple of shots.’’
Marshall had hit a game-winning runner to beat Washington in the non-conference portion of the schedule. This time, Marshall took a handoff and made a quick three, then hit another from NBA range to cut the lead to 91-85 with 40 seconds left.
In the closing seconds, New Mexico missed some free throws, and Marshall made two more threes – one shot from straightaway that banked in, another shot from an angle that also was banked and sent the game to overtime at 94-94. Nevada then won 105-104 in overtime.
Musselman offered this review of Marshall’s heroics: “He is the best shot maker in late games I’ve had, including NBA players that I’ve coached.’’
That had to be the music to the ears of Will, who was much involved in his son’s development as a player.
Will and I had a long talk by cell phone last week. He offered complaints about the “politics’’ that exist in junior basketball (including high school) in Minnesota that caused his son to go largely unappreciated. He still can’t imagine how Marcus wasn’t among the five finalists for Mr. Basketball in 2012, and how the Star Tribune could put Marcus on the third team with its All-Metro selections.
Marcus was at Ramsey Middle School and headed toward the Washburn program as an eighth-grader. Then, he flipped to Hopkins and spent the ninth grade there.
Will expresses respect for Ken Novak, the Hopkins coach, although the family moved to St. Paul and Marcus played his high school ball at Johnson. The Governors were unbeaten state champions when he was a sophomore in 2010. He averaged 22.4 points as a senior, including 36 vs. St. Thomas Academy in the section final.
Marshall was the MVC’s Freshman of the Year for 2012-13 at Missouri State. A meniscus tear cost him much of his sophomore season. Then came the midseason suspension as a junior, the transfer year at Nevada, and now he’s hitting big shots as Eric Mussleman has not seen before …
Meaning, not since Musselman started as the head coach of the Rapid City Thrillers in 1989, not with the Florida Sharks/Beach Dogs, Reno Bighorns or Los Angeles D-Fenders, not in four stops as an NBA assistant (first with his father Bill and the Timberwolves in 1990-91), not as an assistant at Arizona State or LSU, and not in two turns as an NBA head coach with Golden State (2002-04) or Sacramento (2006-07).
Eric had been coaching for 26 years when he became a college head coach for the first time at Nevada in 2015. In the manner of his father, Eric knew where to find players.
He took over a losing program and pieced together a team that won the College Insider Tournament last spring, while having three players sitting out transfer seasons: Marshall, Jordan Caroline and Leland King II.
Caroline had been on the all-Mo Valley freshman team in 2014-15 at Southern Illinois. He is the son of Simeon Rice and the grandson of J.C. Caroline, both great players at Illinois and then NFLers.
Musselman has three more players sitting as transfers this season: Cody and Caleb Martin, 6-7 twins from North Carolina State, and Kendal Stephens from Purdue.
“I was a fan of Bill Musselman as the coach of the Timberwolves,’’ Will Marshall said. “I see the same competitive approach in Eric. It’s a team with a lot of potential to win. That’s what Marcus was looking for.’’