By Todd Golden
TERRE HAUTE — The first time Harry Marshall entered Hulman Center as an Indiana State basketball player in 2006, he was a walk-on.
Marshall’s last act in an ISU uniform at Hulman Center? A walk-off.
Marshall’s 33-foot bomb at the buzzer gave ISU a dramatic 75-72 overtime victory over Missouri State on Saturday. ISU will avoid the play-in round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament for the first time since 2001 as a result.
In a storybook finish for the Sycamores, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate player to hit the biggest shot for ISU’s program since the salad days of 2000 and 2001. Simply because no player has come as far as Marshall has to make himself the heart and soul of the Sycamores.
His recruitment to ISU, if you want to call it that, was almost an afterthought. After a solid career at Owen Valley High School, Marshall received no Division I offers and was invited by then-coach Royce Waltman to come to ISU as a walk-on. He came to the team in near obscurity in the summer of 2006.
In 2006 when he arrived, his teammates probably had to ask him who he was. In 2010, every eye on the Sycamore bench was trained on him and depending on him to come through on Saturday.
And he delivered.
“It’s a great feeling having that ball in my hands, to have 14 other guys looking at me and they trust to me to do my thing and to have the coaches believe in me.
“It’s a great feeling. I’ve never really thought I’d be in this situation, but whenever it comes up, I’m prepared for it and I think that’s what I do best,” Marshall said.
Not to argue with Marshall on his big day, but hitting tough shots is one of the things he does well, but perhaps the thing he does best is instill the Sycamores with toughness he has exuded from day one as a Sycamore.
Marshall got the ultimate compliment from Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin, a very tough player in his own right when he played at Purdue.
“He’s a tough, tough guy. A true competitor. A guy I’d love to have in the trenches with me. He’s a battler, he’s a winner, he’s a fighter. He’s just as good as any guard in this league,” Martin said.
He had no choice but to be tough. Walk-ons have to earn every bit of what they can get. Forget about playing time, they have to scrap for meaningful practice time. Marshall could have been stuck among the white-shirted reserves and ran the scout team for an entire career and no one would have thought twice about it. Instead, he went to work to make a name for himself.
“I just wanted to play my freshman year. I wanted to prove to it to the people back home, the people that passed me by and prove it to myself that I can play at this level. With the coaching change and the offense changing, the coaches believed in me and it snowballed my confidence. Once I saw I could do things at this level, it’s all about confidence and people trusted in me. I didn’t want to let them down,” Marshall said.
Marshall has let down a few times. He was academically ineligible for part of his junior year and was suspended twice this season. Instead of letting any one of those potentially career-ending hiccups become the tombstone for his career, they became a footnote because he worked hard to minimize the damage he did to himself. Because of that, those setbacks will be mostly forgotten.
What won’t be forgotten was how hard he plays. Sometimes he bounced down with the floor with such intensity you’d think he was trying to dent the Hulman Center hardwood with his own dribbles.
The indelible image of Marshall are those hyper-kinetic Tasmanian Devil-style drives to the basket where it seemed as if every muscle in his body is flexed to the breaking point to get to the basket and convert yet another circus layup, a shot that would be ill-advised for almost anyone else, but which worked time and again because Marshall willed himself to make it work.
He has the numbers to validate his hard work. He is the first 1,000-point scorer in school history that came to ISU as a walk-on. He is on the fence to become ISU’s first All-MVC First Team selection since 2001. The one thing that might hold him back was missing five games due to his stress fracture injury. Of course, Marshall was supposed to miss seven games minimum, but he worked through that obstacle too.
“A guy comes here as a walk-on and works so hard to turn himself into a 1,000-point-plus scorer and to play as hard as he does. He brings a lot of things to the table and I’m proud of him,” ISU coach Kevin McKenna said.
Then there’s Saturday’s game-winner. A jubilant Marshall took off on a dead sprint and ran half the length of Hulman Center before his teammates caught up to him and mobbed him. A lot of long-time, frustrated ISU fans would probably have loved to run along with him.
“Harry will have that shot in his back pocket for life. Making a shot like that on Senior Day with what we had on the line? People saw it, he’s going to be able to tell his grandkids about it when he’s old and not playing,” McKenna said.
No Sycamore deserved that moment in the sun more than Marshall did. From day one, he earned it.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.