Marshall’s Postseason Fate Lies in the Return of Ajdin Penava

If you haven’t heard of Marshall’s Ajdin Penava, you have not been paying enough attention to Conference USA basketball.

The junior forward recently burst into the national spotlight this year after averaging the most blocks per game in the nation with 4.8. Previously, Penava’s high was 1.1 blocks per game last season.

Looking at his entire season, Penava has put up some high block numbers against all Thundering Herd opponents. He has six games with six or more blocks, including three games with nine blocks.

But those crazy numbers haven’t just come from rejections. He also has become an efficient shooter from the floor, averaging six makes per 9.7 attempts from the floor.

That combination of scoring and defense has helped Penava sit only a block away from a triple-double three times. As the team’s third-best scorer, he has put up double-digit points in all but his last two games.

With all those great contribution’s, Marshall’s early dominance in the CUSA schedule was halted with a hurt ankle for Penava.

Penava’s injury occurred just four minutes into the Herd’s home loss to Western Kentucky on Jan. 6, a point which he already had five blocks.  Needless to say, his absence hurt Marshall and the Hilltoppers rolled 112-87.

“They had already busted us in the mouth when Ajdin was on the floor,” guard Jarrod West said to the Charleston Gazette-Mail after the loss “Adjin came out, and we knew that was a big loss for sure. They just busted us, I think, from start to finish. They were more physical inside, and I think Ajdin, who leads the country in blocks, five blocks in four minutes, who knows how many fewer layups or dunks they would have gotten if he was on the floor.”

As Marshall’s only true rim protector, teams make a much bigger effort in attacking the Herd in the paint, where it lacks size even with Penava in the game.  His ankle injury will undoubtedly affect Marshall moving forward, but for how long?

Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni initially thought the best-case scenario for Penava’s absence would be two to three weeks.  However, the diagnosis has gotten much more favorable for the Herd.

According to D’Antoni, Penava is expected to return by next week and he did not rule out a return tonight at Charlotte or Saturday night at Old Dominion.  Even if Penava plays the next two road games for the Herd, it’s likely he won’t be fully healthy.

And that could greatly affect Marshall’s first two C-USA road games of the season. And with games against Middle Tennessee, UAB, and WKU over the next two weeks plus, Penava’s availability will be crucial for the Herd to remain towards the top of the C-USA standings.

Marshall’s first game following Penava’s injury tips off at 7 p.m. ET Thursday on the road at Charlotte before another road game at ODU on Saturday with a 7 p.m. ET tipoff.

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