HUNTINGTON — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, there was both a time for cheering and despair for fans of the Thundering Herd in a 40-minute game. It was a game where senior Ryan Taylor scored only five points with two rebounds, fellow senior Austin Loop scored only three and sophomore CJ Burks scored only one point.
But it was also a night where senior Stevie Browning continued to find big shots when the Herd needed them on the way to 24 points, junior Jon Elmore stepped in to score the winning shot, score 15 points and grab nine rebounds, junior Terrence Thompson came up with his third double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds and Taylor blocked five shots to tie his season and career high — earlier against Old Dominion as well.
It was a day where the No. 1, 2 and 4-seeds all won in relatively easy games earlier in the day, then the Marshall men’s basketball team, seeded No. 6 in the tourney, dealt No. 3-seeded Old Dominion an upset loss, 64-63, winning in a game where they played at the Monarchs pace. The Herd earns a second-straight trip to the Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship semifinals for the second year in a row, and third time since 2012 for the program. 64 points in a MU game is the new low for winning a game for the 2016-17 Herd team, having won against Jackson State 71-61 back on Nov. 21.
It was the time Marshall led by 15-0 to open the game, led 20-1 and then did not make a field goal in the next nine minutes. It was an awful start for Old Dominion, who couldn’t hit water out of a boat to open game, then went on 25-3 run to lead at the half, 29-27.
But in the end, an Elmore free throw gave the Herd a one-point lead and ODU did not even get the shot off to give Marshall the rubber game after the teams split the regular-season series, each winning at home. “Coach has preached all year to us, no matter what the times is, go make a play,” Elmore said. “He doesn’t put any limitations on us. I just went out and made a play.
“Coach has preached all year play 40 minutes and stay focused. We just didn’t quit, stuck together, and played Marshall basketball.”
Stevie Browning led the Herd with 24 points. Browning has averaged 20.6 points per game in Marshall’s last five games, since not dressing due to back issues in the regular season game at ODU, and had now scored 936 points in 65 games at Marshall since transferring to the Herd in 2014-15 from Division II Fairmont (W.Va.) State University.
“It’s my team getting me the ball inopportune places and I’m just knocking them down,” Browning said. “We were moving the ball and getting stops and the stops were leading to buckets. Coach Dan says all the time it is a game of runs and we withstood their runs.
“We didn’t want to let them come back but it happened. But that’s a testament to the adversity we’ve faced all year. We pushed through and fought together.”
Marshall improves to 19-14 on the season, while Old Dominion finishes the year 19-11and the Herd will meet No. 2 Louisiana Tech on Friday Afternoon at 3 p.m. (EST). Marshall lost to LA Tech in the team’s only meeting this year, 94-90, in a game in Ruston, La.
It is a game fans can see on the third network of the C-USA Tournament, CBS Sports Network (Comcast/Xfinity in Huntington on channel 721). Airtime on the Marshall flagship stations, ESPN Huntington 94.1 FM and AM 930 and 93.7 The Dawg, is at 3 p.m. with Paul Swann and Woody Woodrum before sending it to Birmingham, Ala., and the Legacy Arena of the BJCC to Steve Cotton and the Thundering Herd/IMG Radio Network. Louisiana Tech beat the “home” team, the No. 7 seed UAB 69-57, in the game played just before the Herd and the Monarchs got together.
“We were inspired by Chuck Landon article about our team playing no defense (in The Herald-Dispatch, following the Herd loss to Rice a week ago). We really buckled down and played pretty good defense. Ended up making that last stop and get a chance to play another game,” Marshall Coach Danny D’Antoni said. “I’m confident in all the players. It happened to be in Jon’s (Elmore) hands (at the end). We’ve had different people all year step up. We don’t pigeon-hole players. The way we practice is I try to instill in them is the next play is a play for you. Don’t be afraid of it.
“I depend on them to be smart basketball players and understand how they can help us to win. If you have players that are unselfish and don’t need the light on them, they will find the right player to get the ball to as a team.”
Earlier in the day, No. 1 Middle Tennessee beat No. 9 UTSA, 86-70, to open play in the quarterfinals. Then No. 4 UTEP knocked off fellow state of Texas member Rice, the No. 5 seed, 86-76, and will meet the Blue Raiders in the other semifinal at 12:30 p.m. (EST). Middle won the regular season title with a 17-1 record, most wins in C-USA play, and are looking to win the Blue Raiders second-straight C-USA Tournament title and the NCAA Tournament bid.
Neither Marshall or Old Dominion exactly put on a shooting clinic in the game. Marshall hit 23-of-53 for 43.4%, 4-of-22 from three, only 18.2% (three of which came early when the Herd sprinted to the 17-0 lead) and were better at the foul line by hitting 70%, 14-of-20. ODU hit 27-of-70, 38.6%, hit a remarkable 6-of-14 from three for 42.9% (for the team that only hit 32% this season) and were only 3-of-6 from three, 50%.
The league’s No. 1 defensive team and rebounding team in C-USA out-rebounded Marshall 44-to-33, but still only beat Marshall in the paint, 36-to-28, and tied the Herd in second-chance basket points, 9-to-9. While Marshall led by 17 in the game, and led the game for 29:44 of 40 minutes, Old Dominion led only by four in the last two minutes of the first half and held the lead all told for only 7:18 of the game.
Coach Jeff Jones of ODU was not unhappy with his team’s effort, just its execution. “It’s always difficult when your season ends. You always like to have a chance to play one more. I cannot fault our effort at all,” Jones said. “Just like these guys have most of the year, I thought they really battled. They showed a lot of character when we got down as much as we did early on to fight back. Ultimately we found out that the self-inflicted wounds often times too difficult to overcome.
“At least a handful of point blank shots that you have to make. Have to put the ball in the basket when you get those opportunities. Then the three turnovers we had when we were in good shape. Against a good team like Marshall, you just can’t do it. The margin of error is so slim.”
Trey Porter and B.J. Stith each tallied 12 points for the team-high, and Brandan Stith had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Porter and B.J. combined to go 11-of-21 from the field.
The Herd will have a rather short night, finishing the game around 11 p.m., and then playing at 3 p.m. on Friday. Elmore doesn’t think the Herd will show any fatigue. “We’re ready to go,” Elmore said. “We could play LA Tech tonight if we had to. It’s a quick turnaround but we’ll be fine.”
- If Marshall can hit five threes as a team on Friday, they will break the record set by the 2015-16 team at 332 made threes last year. When the Herd scores its first seven points on Friday, they will top the 2015-16 team, which set the record at Marshall with 2,838 points in a season.
- Ryan Taylor now has 968 rebounds, while Marshall’s No. 3 Bob Burgess has 973. With with game, Taylor played in game No. 125, and has tied Skip Henderson (1984-88) at No.3. When he plays in Friday’s semifinal, it will tie him with No. 2 Darryl Merthie (2006-10) with 126 games played. Shaq Johnson (134 games, 2008-12) is the Herd’s games played No. 1. Taylor’s five blocks give him 122 in a career and one more will tie him with Nigel Spikes (123, 2009-13) for No. 6 in blocks.
- Stevie Browning now has 111 threes in his career and is now tied at No. 18 with DeAndrea Kane (2010-13). Browning has hit 17-of-31 from three in his last five games (54.8%). He is averaging 20.6 points per game in his last five games.
- Austin Loop is sixth in C-USA history with 283 made threes, and needs two in Friday’s game to pass No. 5 Travis Diener of Marquette at No. 5 with 284 threes. He is also No. 7 in threes attempted in Conference USA with 697, and will pass No 6 Corey Santee of TCU with four attempts on Friday.
- Jon Elmore is now No. 9 for points in a season with 658 this year, passing Skip Henderson (643, 1984-88) with 15 in tonight’s win over ODU. He is No. 12 in career assists with 339 helpers in 58 games, and 199 this season, with four assists tonight, passes Greg White for No. 4. He needs at least one assist on Friday to join Cornelius Jackson (218, 1999-2000) and Mike D’Antoni (228, 1972-73, and 241, 1971-72) as the third player in Marshall history to top 200 assists in a season.
- Terrence Thompson picked up his third career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. 11 rebounds tied his season and career best, set against LA Tech this season.