HUNTINGTON – A crowd of 8,520 appeared Saturday night at the Cam Henderson Center, and while it was the largest attendance for a Marshall basketball game in nearly five years, the loud spectator presence wasn’t most crucial.
That’s because Ryan Taylor showed up again, too.
Taylor, the Herd’s veteran leader who 48 hours earlier endured a foul-curbed game against Charlotte that left him without a field goal for the first time in his career, bounced back with a double-double against visiting Old Dominion.
His 23 points and 12 rebounds – not to mention Marshall’s “earn-it” defense on Monarchs’ star guard Trey Freeman – paved the way to an 82-65 Conference USA victory and a season sweep of ODU.
The Herd (15-12, 11-3 C-USA) matched its highest league win total in 11 seasons in the Texas-rooted conference. Pending the outcome of Sunday’s UAB-at-Middle Tennessee game among the other top two teams in C-USA, Marshall will either go to bed Sunday night in a three-way tie for first place or own second place in solo fashion.
The Herd controls its destiny in the race with UAB (21-5, 11-2) and Middle (18-7, 10-3) because Coach Dan D’Antoni’s team visits the Blazers and Blue Raiders on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. The triumph also gave Marshall a two-loss cushion in the standings over fourth-place Louisiana Tech (20-7, 9-5) as C-USA teams vie for four byes in the league tournament bracket. Tech also visits “The Cam” on March 3.
Marshall went 11-5 in C-USA in 2009-10. The 11-3 mark is the Herd’s best 14-game start in conference play since 1987-88, when Marshall opened 12-2 on the way to the Southern Conference regular-season title and an NIT berth.
In his previous two games, Taylor played only 18 minutes and fouled out of an overtime victory at Western Kentucky, then picked up two personals Thursday night against Charlotte in the first 3:18. He played only 13 minutes and in the 89th game of his Herd career, went 0-for-2 from the field.
“The only thing different, I shaved my beard down a little bit,” the 6-foot-5 junior said. “Maybe that was it, but I mean for me it’s just playing hard without fouling and not getting ones early. My team needs me on the court, so go play smart.”
After 7- and 4-point performances, Taylor provided the impetus for the Herd to break the game open late in the first half. He refused to become frustrated although he hit only 1-of-4 free throws in the opening 5:42.
Taylor hit a 3-pointer from the left side at 11:18 for his first basket. With 5:23 left in the half, his three from the right wing not only lifted MU in front 19-18, but the attempt was the Herd’s 788th behind the arc this season – tying the school single-season mark set by D’Antoni’s first Marshall club last winter.
It was only 48 seconds later when Taylor hit again from behind the left top of the key, the attempt breaking the school mark – it’s now at 800 and counting — and fueling a spurt that had the Herd hitting seven of its last nine shots of the half for a 34-26 lead at the break.
“The (Marshall) ROTC gives us a pin for our Warrior of the Game,” D’Antoni said. “He got it tonight, and he deserved it. Ryan has been an outstanding player for a long time and still has one more good one (season) in him, so I’m proud of him … and we need him.”
ODU (15-12, 8-6) remained within striking distance in a game that had zero fast break points, but Marshall’s defense didn’t give up things easily, and the crowd – the largest since 9,036 showed for a March 5, 2011 win over UCF and former Herd Coach Donnie Jones – offered a boost against a Monarch team that matches the Herd with a league-high five road wins.
Marshall shot 57 percent in the second half after starting the game 3-for-15 and had a 20-4 bulge in points off turnovers. Four of D’Antoni’s starters played 37 or 38 minutes, and point guard Jon Elmore matched his career-high with 10 assists while teammates James Kelly and Stevie Browning scored 18 points apiece. Freeman scored 20 for ODU, which was outscored 10-1 on 3-point goals.
Taylor, who also contributed two blocks and two steals, displayed a resiliency that has become part of his game and he continues to climb among the stars in Marshall history, with 1,233 points and 674 career rebounds. During his 10-point second half, Taylor passed D’Antoni’s younger brother, Mike (1,227 points) , on the Herd career scoring list.
“It’s very tough,” Taylor said when asked about the degree of difficulty in leaving his foul foibles behind. “I probably showed the most frustration I’ve had this season in the past two games and I mean, I know I can’t stay in that mindset. I’ve got to bounce back because of the way the conference is set up with playing Thursday, playing Saturday.
“They need me to be on the court; they don’t need me to be a cheerleader. They need me to be a go-to guy, the leader, the person who talks on the court. That’s what I’ve got to do. I can’t be frustrated with four fouls or really early fouls, fouling out. I’ve got to bounce back, because I know I’m more effective on the court than on the bench.”
Taylor smiled broadly when asked if the tendency is to force things the next time out following a bad outing.
“Uh, I guess I can say I’ve been there before,” he said. “There have been so many games in my college career where I’ve fouled out, or had four fouls – and maybe two or three games where I haven’t bounced back.
“But I know with this offense we have from Coach D’Antoni and what we have on this team in talent, I don’t have to go out and force the game. It’s going to come to me. And when it comes to me, it’s like magic.
“So, I really don’t have to go out there and say, ‘I’m still here,’ because everybody knows I’m still here. They’ve seen me have a couple of bad games before and I’ve bounced back.”
Taylor has fouled out 10 times this season and 24 times in his career. He’s finished 20 other games with four personals. He said another reason he wants to stay on the court is he’s enjoying this season so much after playing on clubs that finished 11-22 and 11-21 the past two seasons.
“We’ve been at the bottom and now we’re at the top, and we don’t want to look back,” he said. “But we’ve got to keep coming in and getting better every day, preparing ourselves as much as we can for the next game.
“I mean, it’s almost like … you could say ‘amazing,’ but we’ve been through it all. (Teammate) Austin Loop and me, we’ve been here for our worst and now we’re here for our best. We can’t get too happy because we still have a lot of work to do.
“I still feel like teams in the conference are just like, ‘Oh, Marshall is happy to be here,’ or ‘They just shot the ball well tonight.’ No, we’re here. We’re trying to go out and prove things and I feel like we’re doing it this year.”
Old Dominion 77,
NORFOLK, Va. — The Old Dominion women’s basketball team outscored visiting Marshall 47-21 in the second half to secure a 77-55 win Saturday at the Ted Constant Center.
The Lady Monarchs improved to 12-14 overall and 8-6 in Conference USA, while Marshall dropped its third-straight to fall to 16-9 and 6-8 in the league.
Jennie Simms, the league’s leading scorer, scored 19 of her 22 in the second half en route to a double-double effort that included 12 rebounds and six assists. Destinee Young overcame a 5-for-14 shooting day to also record a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds). Keyana Brown added 12 points on four 3-pointers and Ije Ajemba narrowly missed a double-double herself with 11 points and nine boards. Brown and Rhaven Kemp had three steals.
Marshall was led by Taylor Porter’s 13 points (5-10 FGs, 3-6 3-pointers), while Talequia Hamilton hit six of her nine shots for 12 points. Shayne Gore and Leah Scott added 10 apiece. Kiana Evans led the way with five rebounds.
ODU held significant edges in free throw attempts (29-4) and rebounding (44-29), 15 of which came on the offensive end to result in a 15-2 ODU edge in second chance points.
“I think we had about three categories that hurt us, especially in the second half,” said Marshall coach Matt Daniel. “Goofy turnovers (unforced), giving up too many offensive rebounds, and our defense that must improve, all contributed. They shot 29 free throws to our four.”
“We have to be better in all phases in this league.”
Marshall got off to a great start, building an 11-point lead (27-16) on a Porter layup with 6:47 left in the game. The Thundering Herd had an eight-point advantage (34-26) before ODU hit two free throws and converted a Marshall backcourt miscue into points to cut the lead to 34-30 at the break.
Those points proved to be the beginning of ODU’s resurgence as the Lady Monarchs went on a 7-0 run to take their first lead (37-34) on a Simms 3-pointer at the 7:59 mark.
The lead was 41-40 after a Porter 3-pointer at the 4:45 mark before the home team closed the quarter on a 17-3 run to end the period with a 58-44 bulge. ODU outscored Marshall 28-10 in the quarter and made 11 of its 14 shots (78.6 percent).
Marshall’s Norrisha Victrum was held scoreless (0-7 shooting) to snap a 40-game scoring streak that dated back to December of last season.
The Thundering Herd returns home to face UAB (13-11, 6-7) Thursday at 11:30 a.m. and Middle Tennessee (17-7, 11-2) Saturday at 1. Those two teams face each other tomorrow at 1 in Birmingham in a contest that will carried by the American Sports Network.