As Jermaine Marshall sat down at the microphone for a post-game press conference, all eyes were on him.
This followed an extra-difficult 74-72 loss to Iowa on Feb. 14, in which the redshirt junior went 1-of-4 at the free throw line down the stretch. But in bitter irony, he managed to make his last free throw, though he intentionally attempted to miss it with his team trailing by two points and less than two seconds left.
With the hardship of letting another close game slip away, Jermaine Marshall sat in the front of the room as Jermaine Marshall usually does — calm and collected. The agony of his team’s 12th straight loss affecting him, but it wasn’t enough to break him. This demeanor led to coach Patrick Chambers designating Marshall as a captain at the beginning of the season.
“He’s very vocal, trying to help the younger guys on where to be and our rotations on defense and maybe on offense,” Chambers said. “In huddles, I usually give him 20 to 30 seconds… and he’s very vocal in those as well as D.J. [Newbill] and Tim [Frazier], that’s why he earned the right to be captain from the Big Ten [season] on.”
Marshall has had to develop as both a player and a leader. After a strong output in his redshirt sophomore season, Marshall was expected to be one of the Lions’ major weapons on the offensive end in their 2012-2013 campaign. When Frazier, last year’s leading scorer, went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in November, expectations became even higher for the Etters, Pa. native.
Marshall has excelled in his role this season. He is second in scoring averaging at 14.8 points per game and has shown the ability to score in high volume. He has been the leading scorer in five of the Lions’ 13 Big Ten games.
“Coach has given me the green light to step up and take big shots,” Marshall said. “Coach having confidence in me and at the same time me having confidence in myself to know that I can make big shots, having the confidence and knowing I can make the plays and asking for the ball at the end of the game is key.”
Chambers has compared Marshall’s game to NBA All-Star Paul Pierce on numerous occasions.
“I told [Marshall] to play at his pace,” Chambers said. “I always use Paul Pierce [as an example] because Paul Pierce is not a jet, but he plays at his pace and he’s an all-star. On this level I tell Jermaine ‘play at your pace’ and that’s really good and that’s why I think you see his numbers increase.”
Learning from those before
Marshall has experienced a lot in his time as a Lion, from using a redshirt his freshman year, to playing with the 2010-2011 NCAA tournament team in his first season of eligibility, to the hardships of this season.
He sat out his freshman year while recovering from a torn patella tendon that he suffered in his senior year of high school. As a redshirt, he was one of the top scorers on the scout team, competing against the likes of Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson.
Jackson, who last played for the Lions in 2011 and now plays professionally in Iceland, was an established junior when Marshall played with the scout team, and was able to see the young guard’s abilities early on.
“I can remember during his redshirt year when he would play with the scout team, he would have days where he couldn't be guarded,” Jackson said via email. “You would see flashes from him and think ‘Man this kid could be good.’ And people are starting to see that in his play now.”
Marshall used the year off as a learning experience. Though he served a limited role, averaging just 2.5 points in his redshirt freshman campaign, the upperclassmen ahead of him preached the importance of confidence as he continued to develop.
“They taught me confidence was a big thing, you never want to lose your confidence,” Marshall said. “At the same time [they taught me to] try to have open ears to everything we do, the coaches, the players and you can learn something from everybody.”
Marshall took their message to heart and started to see the dividends in his redshirt sophomore season, averaging 10.8 points per game — good enough for second on the team.
Though Marshall has steadily increased his scoring, the Lions have not seen the same success. After reaching the tournament the previous year, Penn State went 12-20 in 2011-2012 and are not expected to reach even that mark this season.
Jackson has been impressed with the development of his one-time understudy and anticipates success in Marshall’s future.
“He's much more vocal now than when he came in as a freshman,” Jackson said. “He's become much more confident in his game and it really shows in how he's playing. But I know he wants the team to succeed even more, and it will come.”
A leader through hardship
In his fourth year with the program, Marshall has developed into a savvy veteran on a team with nine underclassmen. He has had to step up as a leader during an especially difficult season of Penn State basketball. Along with losing a star in Frazier, the Lions sit at the very bottom of the Big Ten.
Even with the on-court difficulties, Marshall has had the task of keeping his teammates uplifted.
“We try to keep positives attitudes, we never want to say that we’re down,” Marshall said. “We keep our heads up and our chins high, move on to the next day and try to get better. I think we’ve been doing that for the most part.”
While shouldering the load as both a player and a leader, Marshall serves as an example to some of the younger players on the team, offering guidance and advice that those before him passed on.
His example has been embraced by his teammates. Sophomore Ross Travis spoke to Marshall’s abilities as a captain.
“He’s a great captain, great leader. He gets it done on the defensive end and the offensive end,” Marshall said. “He’s a great player. He can lead with his scoring and also vocally.”
Travis said that one thing that he has tried to take from Marshall is his “killer” mindset — his ability to attack on the offensive end.
Marshall has shown the ability to score in flurries and demand the ball in late-game situations. Against Michigan State on Jan. 16, he scored a career-high 29 points and 22 of them came in the second half, including seven straight points scored in the final two minutes. The Lions ended up taking an 81-72 loss, but Marshall proved that he could be the go-to guy in late-game situations.
Frazier, who joined the Penn State program the same year as Marshall, has had the opportunity to observe his teammate’s game closer than ever and has also seen a significant amount of growth.
“He’s improved in everything, in four years everything has slowed down for him, he can get anywhere on the floor that he wants as far as basketball goes,” Frazier said. “His game has stepped up another notch with me being out and now he’s a vocal leader and one of the true leaders on the team.”
Though he is called on to score and defend, Marshall continues to add aspects to his game. Against Iowa on Feb. 14, Marshall had 14 points and 10 assists, finding players on the drive as well as kicking out when the defense collapsed on him.
According to his head coach, Marshall is seeing results because he is putting in the necessary work.
“He’s working harder than he’s ever worked,” Chambers said. “He gets in the gym more often, he’s in the training room working on his lower half, he’s working hard in the weight room so I think that’s the big change for him. I think you got to get it done off the floor first and it’s a domino effect on the floor.”