BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Three down, one to go.
In a 3-point heaving, record-setting, jaw-dropping shooting performance that smashed a Conference USA tournament record, Marshall ousted second-seeded Louisiana Tech, 93-77, here Friday afternoon at Legacy Arena and moved within one game of ending a three-decade NCAA tournament drought.
The sixth-seeded Herd will face regular season champ Middle Tennessee in Saturday night’s final at 8:30.
“We shot the ball the way we should and do,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “That’s our strength and that’s who we are. We did a nice job. I’m not going to say it was an extraordinary job.”
The record books say otherwise. In the spirit of the social media hashtag #Danalytics – a nod to D’Antoni’s preference for the 3-point shot – Marshall (20-14) leaned on the perimeter shot early and often, connecting on 14 in the first half, a school record-tying 19 for the game and a new C-USA tournament record (previously, three teams had reached 15 3s in a tourney game).
At halftime, when the Herd held a 49-41 lead, 42 of its points had come on 3-point shots and the rest on a pair of 2s and three foul shots.
“I thought this was probably our best game of the year at playing 40 minutes,” Marshall guard Jon Elmore said. “From the jump it seemed like everybody was focused … everybody was locked in. It was a great team effort.”
Elmore, Terrence Thompson, Stevie Browning, Ajdin Penava, C.J. Burks and Austin Loop all hit 3-pointers in the opening half. Marshall took the lead for good when Browning hit a 3 from the right wing with 15:14 left of the first half. Louisiana Tech (23-10) threatened to sneak back into the game, but the Herd seemed to always have an answer from the outside.
Starting with Browning’s 3, Marshall scored its next 18 points on six 3-pointers, turning a game that was tied at 8-8 into a 26-16 advantage. Marshall led by as many as 16 points in the first half.
The Bulldogs, who had won nine of 10 games entering Friday’s second semifinal, pulled within 3 points in the second half, 62-59, before Elmore and Loop hit back-to-back 3s to stave off the comeback. The Herd’s lead eventually swelled to as many as 18 points in the waning seconds when Ryan Taylor punctuated the win with a two-handed dunk.
Next up: No. 1 seed Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders had an easy time with fourth-seeded UTEP, winning 82-56 in the first game of the day. MT has now won nine consecutive games and is 29-4 in the season, which includes a pair of wins against Marshall (69-57 on Jan. 12; 97-86 on Feb. 18).
“They’re good,” D’Antoni said. “Here’s the adjustment: We better play damn good or they’ll going to blow us off the floor. So there’s an adjustment. We just got to play our game.”
Marshall reached 20 wins for the first time in D’Antoni’s three seasons. The last time the Herd eclipsed 20 wins was 2011-12. That season also included a run to the Conference USA tournament championship game, where Marshall lost to host Memphis, 83-57. The Herd’s season ended a few days later with an NIT loss at Middle Tennessee.
Five MU players scored in double figures against Louisiana Tech: Elmore 21, Taylor 19, Browning 18, Loop 18 (on six 3-pointers) and Burks 11. Browning continued his torrid run, adding seven assists against no turnovers in 37 minutes. He also grabbed six rebounds.
Taylor added 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double.
The post-game celebration spilled into the locker room after Friday’s win. The players, after three games in three days and two games inside of 24 hours, roared as they jumped in a huddle around an assistant coach.
Three down, one to go.
“We’re feeling good, but not too good. Staying high, but not too high,” Loop said. “We know we’ve got a big game in front of us. This isn’t like we are doing something that wasn’t expected of us. We’re good enough, this should be where we’re at.”
Marshall finished 19 of 35 from 3-point range, which tied or set school and Conference USA records. The Herd shattered the previous C-USA tournament single game record of made 3s (15, by three teams). MU had 14 made 3s by halftime (on 23 attempts). Marshall’s 19 3s ties a school record originally set on Dec. 14, 1996 against Morehead State and tied earlier this season vs. Western Kentucky (Jan. 21).
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 – D’Antoni’s 2015-16 teams broke the records last year, too.
Austin Loop started his 99th consecutive game. He has played in 112 career games, tying him for 19th in program history (Laverne Evans and Harold Simmons).
Loop is now fourth in Conference USA history in 3-pointers made (289) and sixth in 3-pointers attempted (705). With six 3-pointers against Louisiana Tech, Loop passed Marquette’s Travis Diener (284) and Memphis’ Rodney Carney (287) in league history.
Jon Elmore upped his season assist total to 203, becoming only the third different player in Marshall history to eclipse 200 assists in a single season (Mike D’Antoni did it twice and Cornelius Jackson once).
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.
Ryan Taylor played his 127th game, which moves him into second place in school history. Shaquille Johnson (2008-12) holds the school record by appearing in 134 games.
Taylor is now third in MU history in career rebounds (979). He passed Bob Burgess, who grabbed 973 rebounds from 1959-62.
Saturday’s championship game will be D’Antoni’s 100th as the head coach of the Herd.
Old Dominion 63
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Marshall’s season is still alive here in the Magic City.
The Thundering Herd, seeded sixth in the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament, watched its 17-point first half lead vanish Thursday night against third-seed Old Dominion. And then, with the scored tied in the twilight of the last semifinal game of the day at Legacy Arena, Marshall’s magician became the final act.
Jon Elmore, the consummate playmaker who leads C-USA in scoring and assists, drove to the basket and got fouled with 2.9 seconds left, and then made the decisive free throw in Marshall’s 64-63 win against ODU. The Herd is in the semifinals for the second consecutive season – two steps from an automatic NCAA tournament berth – and will face No. 2 seed Louisiana Tech on Friday at 3 p.m.
“Coach has preached all year to us that no matter what the time is, where we are at in the game, just go make a play,” Elmore said. “He doesn’t put any limitations on us; he gives us that freedom. I saw the opening and made a quick little hesitation move and got to the basket and drew the contact. I just went out and made a play.”
The score was tied at 63-63 when Elmore got to the left side of the basket and drew contact from ODU’s Ahmad Caver. Elmore made the first free throw and missed the second, so Old Dominion called a timeout to set up its final play with 2.3 seconds left.
The Monarchs couldn’t get a final shot off before the buzzer sounded, and the celebration ensued in front of the 4,005 in attendance.
“We figured they were going to try to throw it long,” Elmore said. “C.J. played great defense on it, they threw it up and everybody stayed in front of their man and stuck to what we were trying to do there.”
Thursday’s win was a first this season for Marshall when scoring fewer than 70 points.
“We came out and played pretty good defense and ended up making that last stop and extending the season,” MU coach Dan D’Antoni said.
The game started out drastically different, albeit with a familiar feel.
In a Jan. 5 game between Marshall and ODU at the Henderson Center in Huntington, West Virginia, the Herd missed its first 10 shots and had 14 consecutive empty possessions to start the game. The Monarchs were in complete control with a 14-0 lead.
Marshall rallied, however, and defeated the visiting Monarchs in overtime, 90-86.
More than two months later, in the C-USA tournament quarterfinals, it was ODU that stumbled out of the gate. The Monarchs missed their first 15 shots and fell behind 15-0 before Brandon Stith finally came through with a tip-in 8:05 into the first half. The scenario was 1 point and 5 seconds away from how the first meeting started in January.
“It was like, ‘Wow, we’ve seen this before in the other way,’” Browning said. “We didn’t want to let them come back, but it happened and that’s a testament to the adversity we’ve faced all season. We faced a little bit right there and we pushed through and kept fighting.”
Marshall figured ODU would make a run – and it happened. After falling behind 21-4, ODU put together a 9-0 run that trimmed the deficit to 8 points, 21-13. That was a small spurt inside an 18-2 run that made it 23-22, ODU, Marshall, with 4:10 left.
That run overlapped with a 12-0 run that turned an 8-point Herd lead into a 4-point deficit, 27-23, with 2:19 left before halftime. The Herd trailed 29-27 at intermission after leading by 17 on two occasions.
“We knew we weren’t going to shut them out,” Marshall senior guard Stevie Browning said. “We knew they were going to have their runs.”
The second half was a back-and-forth contest, and there ended up being 10 lead changes and six ties. ODU never led by more than 4 points, and last held the lead with 2:27 left after a Stith dunk.
Elmore responded with a layup 11 seconds later to tie it at 59-59, and then senior forward Ryan Taylor made two free throws to give Marshall a 61-59 lead with 1:40 remaining.
ODU tied it again, 61-61, on another Stith dunk with 28 seconds left. Browning answered on the other end to put the Herd ahead, 63-61, with 11 seconds left. It appeared that’d be Marshall’s final offensive possession of regulation, but ODU scored more quickly than anticipated – a wide-open Stith dunk with 6 seconds left – and set up Elmore’s heroics with seconds left.
“We were a little worried it was going to go extra minutes tonight,” Elmore said. “I think we did a really good job of sticking together tonight. We faced a lot of adversity. We couldn’t quit at any time when they made their runs … we didn’t quit and played Marshall basketball. If we keep that up, we’ll be OK.”
Browning continued his hot streak with a game-high 24 points on 10 of 19 shooting. He scored 22 points on Marshall’s C-USA tournament first-round win against Florida Atlantic on Wednesday.
Elmore added 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Junior forward Terrance Thompson was the only other MU player in double figures with 10 points, and he added 11 rebounds for the double-double.