Basketball

Marshall Herd Thunders Down The “3-way” To C-USA Championship Game

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HUNTINGTON — In Birmingham, Ala., the Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball team has three wins — over No. 11 Florida Atlantic, No. 3 Old Dominion and now No. 2 Louisiana Tech, by a final score of 93-77. Now the Herd will hopefully Thunder down the freeway — er, make that “3-way,” looking for the Conference USA Championship in Saturday’s title game, as Marshall set a C-USA Tournament record with 19 3-pointers in the win over the Bulldogs, and await a match-up with No. 1 Middle Tennessee.

The championship game is March 10 at 8:30 p.m. (EST) at the Legacy Arena in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, and can be seen on CBS Sports Network (channel 721 on Xfinity/Comcast in Huntington and Putnam County, Suddenlink channel 562, and DirecTV on channel 221). Middle is the No. 1 seed, 29-4 overall, and in the C-USA Championship game for the third season in a row under Coach Kermit Davis.

MUBSKB 2016-17 Game 934 win 93-77 vs. LA Tech, Ryan Taylor (19-11) and Austin Loop (6-of-8 from 3) head up court

Austin Loop (18 points on 6-of-8 threes) and Ryan Taylor (19 points and 11 rebounds) head up the court with a trip to the Conference USA Championship in hand. (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

Middle is 19-1 against all C-USA competition, winning 17-of-18 regular season games to set a new C-USA record with a 17-1 regular season. The only loss — a still inexplicable loss to No. 11 FAU — who the Herd beats in the opening round of the C-USA tourney.

Today, the Herd once again made 19 3-pointers in the win in just 35 attempts (54.3%). That ties a Herd record of 19-of-41, first set when Coach Greg White’s 1996-97 team saw Keith Veney shoot for a NCAA record of 15 made threes against Morehead State on Dec. 14, 1996, and then again hit 19-of-41 (46.3%) earlier this year against WKU on Jan. 21. Tonight’s 3-point shooting breaks the old C-USA Tournament mark of 15 made threes (set by East Carolina in March of 2015 and Louisville in March of 2005 and 2002) and is tied at No. 2 in a single game with Houston hitting 19 in 2006 and Louisville hitting 19 in 2002. The overall record in C-USA is Cincinnati pumping in 24-of-48 against Oakland (Mich.) on Dec. 5, 1998.

Leading the barrage tonight was junior Jon Elmore, who hit 7-of-12 from three, on his way to game-high 21 points. Senior Austin Loop hit 6-of-8 (missing a very late try to get the 20th three of the game) for 18 points, and fellow senior Stevie Browning also scored 18 points including 2-of-7 from three. Senior Ryan Taylor had his 40th double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds and did not try a three but plenty of other Herd players did.

MUBSKB 2016-17 Game 934 win 93-77 vs. LA Tech, Jon Elmore hits over Jacobi Boykin

Jon Elmore launches one of his record 7 threes over the outstretched hand of LA Tech’s Derric Jean on the way to leading the Herd with 21 points in the semifinal win. (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

Sophomore CJ Burks came off the bench to score 11 and hit 2-of-3 from distance.  The Herd’s bigs got in on the action with junior Terrence Thompson making 1-for-2, while sophomore Adjin Penava was 1-for-3 from downtown.

“We shot the ball like we should. If you watch us every day, that’s our strength, who we are. We did a nice job,” Marshall Coach Danny D’Antoni said. “It wasn’t extraordinary, but it was a good job. We’ve got to continue to do that. That’s our flavor of the day.

“Defensively, we picked it up pretty well. (Holding Louisiana Tech to) 42-percent (shooting) is pretty good for us. We turned them over enough to get stops. We’ve got a good group of kids. I thought our sets were a lot sharper. I’m happy for them and we move on to play another day.”

D’Antoni was not only happy with both the three shooting (54.3%) as well as the shooting from the field (32-of-59, 54.2%) and 10-of-13 from the line (76.9%), the Herd had 22 assists on those 32 makes. That is tied for fifth in a single game in the C-USA Tournament when Memphis had 22 assists against Marshall in a tournament game in 2007.

MUBSKB 2016-17 Game 934 win 93-77 vs. LA Tech, Coach D'Antoni winning formula

Marshall Coach Danny D’Antoni has the Herd into the C-USA Championship game on Saturday thanks to picking up the Herd’s third straight win and 20 wins on the season. (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

“That’s the kind of the way we practice. We do it every day. We did a lot better finding the open guy,” D’Antoni said. “We took advantage of their switch on Ryan, when they had a little guy down low, that gives them problems when you do that. Our biggest thing I was worried about was their 3s. We kept them to 5-of-23, and that might have been the winning plays really, is the ability to cut out their retaliation 3s.”

Browning led the Herd with seven assists, to go with no turnovers and six rebounds (second most on the team) with his 18 points. Both Elmore and Loop each had four assists, while Taylor and Burks each had three assists.

“This was probably our best game of the year (as far as) playing 40 minutes,” Elmore said. “From the jump, everybody was focused and giving 100 percent everything.”

MUBSKB 2016-17 Game 934 win 93-77 vs. LA Tech, Browning celebrated win

Stevie Browning smiles as he scored 18 points, had seven assists, and six rebounds in the 93-77 win over LA Tech. The win moves Marshall to the 8:30 p.m. EST championship game for the NCAA Tournament bid on Saturday against No. 1 Middle Tennessee. (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

LA Tech was led by senior Erik McCree, who had 16 points and eight rebounds, and freshman DaQuan Bracey, who also had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists, tied for the team lead with junior Jacobi Boykins. Boykins had four assists, seven points, and seven rebounds.

Bulldog Coach Eric Konkol saw the Herd win for the first time against Tech in seven games. “Not very many games like that, a lot of credit goes to Marshall. They shot the ball as well as any team I’ve ever seen. They can really score,” Konkol said. “Our guys tried mixing it up a lot of ways trying to break up the rhythm and we couldn’t do that tonight. Hats off to Marshall. I feel disappointed for our team, especially (McCree) next to me because he’s been a warrior.

“So much of what they do is predicated on a lot of different ball actions. They have set actions, but so much of what they do is reads. It’s hard to emulate and plan for especially in a 12-hour scout. Elmore’s playmaking for his teammates is the game plan. I think we got to Plan Z on our game plans to try and stop them. They were on fire.”

McCree, who was overcome with emotion and had to step away from the post-game press conference, basically told the media the same story as his coach earlier in the interview. “We tried to contest it. We wanted to get as good of hand up as possible but they have great shooters,” McCree said. “We didn’t do a good job of stopping them.

“Coach (Konkol) gave us a great game plan. He told us exactly what was going to happen but they didn’t miss from the 3-point line.”

MUBSKB 2016-17 Game 934 win 93-77 vs. LA Tech, CJ Burks rebounds

CJ Burks pulls down a rebound to go along with the 11 points and three assists he had, pulling the board down in front of the Bulldogs No. 0, Jacobi Boykins. (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

Marshall will be in the finals against Middle after losing to the Blue Raiders last year in the semi-finals, when No. 2 MTSU beat the Herd, 99-90. It will be Marshall’s second trip to the C-USA finals as the Herd reached the title game in 2012 as a 6-seed before falling to No. 1 Memphis, 83-57, after beating No. 11 SMU, then beat No. 3 Tulsa 105-100 in 3 OTs (behind DeAndre Kane’s 40 points, No. 2 all-time in a C-USA tourney game) and beat No. 2 Southern Miss — looks a lot like this year’s run.

Middle swept Marshall with a 69-57 win over the Herd in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (when both teams made only five 3-pointers) on Jan. 12, and then beat the Herd on Feb. 18, 97-86, when Marshall hit just 7-of-24 from three while the Blue Raiders hit 6-of-16 and both teams put up 26 free throws in the game (MU hit 21, MTSU 23). The Herd hit 29-of-64, while Middle hit 34-of-65 from the field.

But D’Antoni is making his first trip to the championship, after just being happy to make the tournament as a No. 14 seed his first season in 2014, and knows Middle is No. 1 for a reason. “They’re good. Here’s the adjustment, we better play damn good or they’re going to run us off the floor,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve just got to play our game. They’re going to what they do. We’re going to do what we do. If they beat us, they beat us. If we beat them, then good for us, and yay for Marshall.”

MUBSKB 2016-17 Game 934 win 93-77 vs. LA Tech, Austin Loop high five as players celebrate win

Austin Loop (left, front) and Terrence Thompson (right, front) lead their Herd teammates pasts fans, cheerleaders and the band after picking up the win, 93-77, over Louisiana Tech. The Herd plays MTSU in Saturday’s C-USA Championship game. (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

Loop, who joined the Herd as a freshman walk-on the year following the run-up to the finals, was a little more upbeat about Saturday’s meeting with the Blue Raiders. “We are feeling good, but not too good,” Loop said. “Staying high but not too high. We know we’ve got a big game ahead of us tomorrow. We’re not doing something that was not expected for us. We’re playing well and we’re excited for tomorrow.”

The game also airs on the Thundering Herd/IMG Sports Radio Network, with Steve Cotton in Birmingham for the call. Pregame starts at 7 p.m. on Huntington flagship stations ESPN 94.1 FM and AM 930 and The Dawg 93.7 FM and throws to the network at 8 p.m. The men’s game on CBS Sports Network will follow the women’s game, where No. 1 WKU beat LA Tech, the 4-seed, 77-53, and will face the winner of No. 2 Middle Tennessee versus No. 3 Southern Miss (still to be played at press time).

THUNDER NOTES:

This is the second time in three years the No. 6 seed (which the Herd is) has reached the C-USA Championship. In 2015, it was No. 6 Middle Tennessee who beat Charlotte, ODU, and UTEP to reach the finals before falling to UAB, 73-60. In 2012, Marshall was a No. 6 seed against No. 1 Memphis in the only other No. 6 to advance to the championship.

This year’s version of the Herd also became the school record-holders for points scored (2,925) and 3-pointers (346). The records had barely stood a year – Danny D’Antoni’s 2015-16 teams broke the records last year, too. Saturday’s game is D’Antoni’s 100th as Marshall’s Head Coach, and he is very near .500 in his career (48-51).

MUCHEER MU cheerleaders flip for Herd heading to C-USA Championship game

The Herd cheerleader flips for joy as Marshall wins the semi-final game of the C-USA tourney, and will play for a championship on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST, 7:30 p.m. in Birmingham, Ala. (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

Senior Austin Loop reached top five (fourth) in C-USA history in three-point field goals made with 289 for his career the season after going 6-of-8 for the afternoon. His 75 percent three-point shooting performance ties him for seventh-best in C-USA championship (minimum six attempts). Loop is No. 4 in C-USA all-time with 289 threes, passing both Travis Diener of Marquette (284) and Rodney Carney of Memphis (287). He also started and played in his 99th game — every game since D’Antoni took over before his sophomore season.

All-C-USA First Team selection Jon Elmore set a Marshall single-game record, connecting on seven three-pointers, passing Loop who had six versus UTEP last March and six today. Elmore now has 348 assists in his career, one behind No. 11 Travis Young (349, 1997-2001). He also now has 203 this season, joining Corny Jackson (No. 3 with 218 in 1999-2000) and Mike D’Antoni (No. 2 with 228 assists in 1972-73 and No. 1 with 241 assists in 1971-72). Elmore has scored 679 points this season, which is the seventh-best single-season total in school history. During Friday’s tournament semifinal, Elmore passed Russell Lee (659, 1970-71) and James Kelly (663, 2015-16) on the list. Elmore needs five points to match George Stone, who scored 684 points during the 1966-67 season.

Marshall is 10-5 on the year when four or more student-athletes reach double-figures. Today Jon Elmore had 21, Ryan Taylor finished with 19 and Stevie Browning and Loop tossed in 18 apiece while CJ Burks had 11.

MUBSKB 2016-17 Game 934 win 93-77 vs. LA Tech, Loop celebrates Taylor bucket

Ryan Taylor is feeling good about his 40th double-double, with 19 points (18 of which came in the second half) and 11 rebounds as the Herd beats LA Tech. No. 35 is Austin Loop, and the cheerleader — well she is cheering to “Bring on The Herd!” (photos courtesy of Conference USA)

Ryan Taylor gathered 19 points and 11 rebounds for his Marshall (tied for fifth most rebounds in Herd C-USA tourney game) and C-USA leading 40th double-double of his career. It is also his 13th of the season. With those 11 rebounds, he has 18 rebounds in the tournament and has pushed to No. 3 all-time at Marshall in rebounds with 979. Only Charlie Slack (with an incredible total of 1,916 boards 1952-56) and JR VanHoose (1,086, 1998-2002) have more rebounds as Taylor passed Bob Burgess (973, 1959-62). Taylor now has 291 assists and is eight from tying No. 14 Andy Paul Williamson (299, 1987-90).

Taylor plays in game No. 127 of his career, and now is No. 2 in games played at Marshall passing Darryl Merthie (126, 2009-13). No. 1 is Shaquille Johnson, who played in 134 games (2008-12), his last two games coming in the C-USA 2012 Championship versus Memphis, then at MTSU in the NIT. Taylor has 1,772 points, is No. 7 all-time but could catch No. 6 Tamar Slay (1,792 points, 1998-2002). Taylor also tied No. 18 Carlton King (1995-99) and Malik Hightower (1991-95) for steals with 110 and he is now No. 9 in field goals made with 614, passing both No. 10 LaVerne Evans (612, 1980-84) and No. 11 Tom Curry (611, 1984-88).

It was only the fourth time in 19 games where Louisiana Tech out-rebounded its opponent the Bulldogs went on to lose the game, as they beat MU 43-to-31 in rebounding. It was the largest loss of the year for the Bulldogs (-16 points) and is only the third double-digit loss of the year.

Middle Tennessee won 82-56 over No. 4 UTEP, who never got on track, shooting only 39% from the floor, 2-of-10 from three and 14-of-20 at the line. Middle led in rebounds, 41-to-30, and scored 25 points off 18 UTEP turnovers. Reggie Upshaw led the Blue Raiders with 18 points and eight rebounds, Giddy Potts had 14 points and seven rebounds, JaCorey Williams had 13 points and six rebounds and Antwain Johnson had 11 points. Tyrik Dixon scored three points but had seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals while turning the ball over just two times (9 turnovers in all for MTSU). They have nine consecutive wins.

MUBAND 2017 at C-USA Tournament with President Gilbert

Everybody wants to be at the Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championships in Birmingham, Ala., even Marshall University’s President Dr. Jerry Gilbert, who is hanging out with the band and shooting selfies as Herd wins over Louisiana Tech, 93-77. (photos courtesy of President Gilbert on Twitter)

About Woody Woodrum

Senior Editor and columnist/writer for Herd Insider since 2003, with Kindred Communications on radio for Marshall football/men's basketball pregame and postgame shows since 1996 and with First Sentry Bank Sportsline (Also Scott on Sports, Sideline Sports and Herd Insider Sportsline) since 1997. Married to Liz (12-22-1990) and one son, Tre' (11-7-1997). National Sportswriters & Sportscasters West Virginia Broadcaster of the Year winner for radio, 2000; won W.Va. Broadcasters Best Talk Show in 2013 with co-host Paul Swann and W.Va. Broadcasters Best Play-by-Play in 2015 with Jason Toy (Huntington at South Charleston, state AAA semifinals). Member of (College) Football Writers Association of America, (College) Basketball Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Color commentator for Marshall football (1999-2000), for Marshall basketball (2004-2016) and Marshall baseball (2004-2016). Color for high school football at Spring Valley (1999-2008), Cabell Midland (2009-2012) and Huntington (W.Va.) High School (2013-2016).

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