HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When it comes to the Henderson Center crowd, the bigger the better.
Saturday night’s head coaches – Middle Tennessee’s Kermit Davis and Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni – each lauded the 7,620 fans, the Herd’s largest home attendance this season. But on the court, D’Antoni determined that smaller is better.
At least against the Blue Raiders.
D’Antoni leaned on six players under 6 feet, 6 inches tall in Saturday night’s second half: 6-5 Ryan Taylor, 6-3 Stevie Browning, 6-3 Jon Elmore, 6-4 Austin Loop, 6-2 Ky’re Allison and 6-3 C.J. Burks played 93 of a possible 100 minutes. Not coincidentally, the Herd’s fortunes flipped.
It wasn’t enough to stave off Marshall’s second home loss of the season, this one a 97-86 triumph for visiting and Conference USA frontrunner Middle Tennessee. MT outscored Marshall 47-26 in the first half, and then the small-ball lineup for the homestanding Herd rallied, trimmed what was once a 26-point deficit to 9 and outscored 24-4 Middle Tennessee 60-50 in the second half.
“Their bigs are really difficult for us because they play like guards,” D’Antoni said. “They face up, they’re athletic, they can drive, they cut hard. We’ve got to get our bigs in the same rhythm that they play, which is extremely hard and quick-paced. That’s why I went small.”
Marshall (15-12, 8-6 C-USA) struggled from the outset, missing 17 of its first 20 field goal attempts. The Herd, ranked No. 11 nationally in 3-pointers made, didn’t connect from long range until 37 seconds left of the first half, when Burks (Martinsburg, West Virginia) drained one from the left corner. MU had missed its first 10 attempts before Burks converted one.
The Herd, which entered Saturday’s game as the only C-USA team with fewer than two losses at home (11-1, now 11-2), made only 7 of 26 shots (26.9 percent) in the first half, including 1 of 11 on 3s (9.1 percent). That changed with the smaller lineup, with Marshall making 22 of 38 shots (57.9 percent) after intermission, including 6 of 13 from 3-point range (46.2 percent).
“We took a 26-point lead down to (9),” D’Antoni said. “But we can’t win that way in the long haul.
“The first half they busted our butt, but the second half we made it competitive,” he added. “I think Ryan played really good, C.J. was excellent and Jon made some really outstanding plays. We’ve just got to get other people at that level.”
Marshall’s 86 points is the most an opponent has scored on Middle Tennessee this season. In fact, the Blue Raiders held their previous five opponents to below 60 points, and hadn’t allowed a team to score at least 70 points since Jan. 14 (Western Kentucky).
“Dan is as good of an offensive coach as anybody in college basketball,” MT coach Kermit Davis said. “We just kind of hung on the last 5 or 10 minutes.”
Burks established a new career high with 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting. He made 4 of 7 from 3-point range, the only Herd player to make multiple 3s. He hadn’t scored more than 15 points in a Conference USA game this season.
Taylor, who moved up a variety of career lists in program and Conference USA history (see notes below), filled up the stat sheet: 20 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block. That is Taylor’s ninth double-double this season and 36th for his career.
Elmore (Charleston, West Virginia) finished with 18 points and five assists.
Middle Tennessee, which improved to 14-1 in C-USA play, had six players score in double figures: JaCorey Williams, 23; Giddy Potts, 19; Reggie Upshaw, 12; Tyrik Dixon, 10; Brandon Walters, 10; and Xavier Habersham, 10.
Davis, who picked up his 300th win at Middle Tennessee, praised D’Antoni and the rowdy Henderson Center crowd.
“It was a fantastic environment,” he said. “The Marshall fan base to be there at almost 8,000 people, that’s a great reflection on our league and Conference USA.
“I’m a big fan of Dan’s and the job that he’s doing here. Just to have that kind of crowd shows how much they like the head coach and players.”
Head coach Dan D’Antoni
“They’re a good ball club. They played extremely hard. Their bigs are really difficult for us because they play like guards. They can face up, they’re athletic, they can drive, they cut hard and we have to get our bigs in the same rhythm that they play, which is extremely hard. That’s why we were unable to really get their post.
“We weren’t staying with their speed off of picks. We faced up on Williams and we weren’t getting up in there tight enough to where he missed shots. Still, we took a 26 point lead down to eleven. But we can’t win that way in the long run. We have to have our bigs step up and get into rhythm with that type of game.”
On playing against JaCorey Williams:
“Well he’s really tough for our bigs. Every matchup is different. The only time [Middle Tennessee] uses their length and size is off the cuts. And they get on the edge then they stop. We just weren’t doing a good job with our bigs getting over there early, contesting and getting out in front of them. So I put CJ in there and CJ can actually run them out. We lost a few because of the height difference but, in the end, the speed of the ball movement, that was a big thing.
“We’re not going to beat this team with a total defensive effort. We have got to beat this team by scoring against them. And then fight like heck on the defensive end because they’re a little bit bigger than us and a little bit more athletic.
“I want to thank our crowd for being here and supporting us like they do. It’s going to give a boost.”
On slow starts in first half this season:
“I don’t know. I have no clue. Maybe I should do a better speech. Do some jumping jacks or push-ups before the game. I don’t know. I could say something intelligent, but it would all be lies.”
No. 25 senior forward Ryan Taylor
On the persistence of the team:
“We started too late in the first half even though we had gained more points than the other team the second half. Just because we were down does not mean we were out.”
On the split:
“We knew they both were doing to be tough, but I rather have taken a 1-1 split over a 0-2 losing streak between the two.”
On why the other team was able to get the win:
“They are a well-coached team, but we also dug ourselves into a deep hole first half.”
Austin Loop is at the top of another category in the record books. The senior from South Webster, Ohio, broke Tamar Slay’s school record for 3-point attempts. Loop, who finished 1 of 6 from 3-point land against Middle Tennessee, now has 656 attempts in his four-year college career. Slay’s record was 650. Loop broke Slay’s school record for 3-pointers made in a Jan. 28 home loss to UTEP. Loop has 269 made 3-pointers, which is No. 6 in Conference USA history.
Loop is also climbing up the single-season 3-point list. His second-half make against Middle Tennessee pushed Loop’s season total to 88 3-pointers, which ties Ronald Blackshear for the fifth-best total in a single season in school history. The single-season record is held by Keith Veney, who made 130 3-pointers in 1996-97.
Ryan Taylor passed J.R. VanHoose in career field goals attempted. Taylor now has 1,194 career field goal attempts, which ranks No. 12 in school history.
Taylor also passed Skip Henderson and J.R. VanHoose in career free throws attempted. Taylor, who now ranks No. 3 in the category, made 10 of 13 from the line against Middle Tennessee, which gives him 633 attempts in his career. Skip Henderson attempted 625 from 1984-88. VanHoose, who was No. 3, attempted 630.
Taylor grabbed 13 rebounds, which moved him past Southern Methodist great Papa Dia (911, 2008-11) and Cincinnati star Jason Maxiell (908, 2002-05) for career rebounds in Conference USA history. Taylor has 921 career rebounds, which ranks No. 9 all-time in C-USA history. Next up: No. 8, B.B. Waldon, who grabbed 928 rebounds for USF from 1998-02.
Taylor’s 13 rebounds also vaulted him ahead of Herd great Bob Allen, who had 919 rebounds from 1965-98. Taylor now ranks No. 4 in program history in career rebounds, with Bob Burgess (973, 1959-62) next on the list.
Jon Elmore dished out five assists against Middle Tennessee, which pushed his season total to 165, passing Greg White (164, 1979-80) for No. 17 in school history in a single season with Greg White. The school record is held by Mike D’Antoni, who had 241 assists in 1971-72.
Marshall began the game 0-10 from beyond the arc, with C.J. Burks hitting the first three-pointer with under a minute left in the half
Marshall’s 26 points at halftime are a season low (Previous low was 28 against Old Dominion).
The Herd’s 60 second half points are the second most points the team has scored in a half this season (68 at Pittsburgh in the second half).
C.J. Burks scored a season and career-high 27 points and shot a career high 11 made field goals (11-15 FG).
Ryan Taylor recorded his ninth double-double of the season with 20 points and 13 rebounds. He now has 36 career double-doubles
The team’s 32 bench points are a season high.
The crowd of 7,620 was the largest of the season.