Herd beats Southern Miss to reach C-USA finals
FRISCO, Texas – Junior guard Jon Elmore’s near triple-double from 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists put the Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball team into the Conference USA Championship for the second consecutive year after it claimed an 85-75 victory in the semifinals against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles on Friday afternoon at the Star.
“Obviously, we’re just glad to win and advance,” head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “We’re going to ride on the saddle with these young people. They played well, especially the first half, I thought we were outstanding. The second half, we have to play better with a lead. In the end, we’re excited about winning and getting a chance to play in the conference championship for the second year in a row. Hopefully, we can pull this off and get into the NCAA Tournament.”
The win helped the Thundering Herd improve to 23-10 overall, while the Golden Eagles fell to 16-18. The win gives Marshall a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 31 years if it defeats either WKU or Old Dominion on Saturday evening.
Aiding Elmore was redshirt freshman Jannson Williams, who added 17 points and five rebounds. Juniors C.J. Burks and Ajdin Penava combined for 25 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Jarrod West added 12 points from three 3-pointers and three free throws. Southern Miss’ Cortez Edwards scored a game-high 30 points.
After the teams were tied at 19-19 at the 12:07 mark, the Herd went on a 13-0 run to lead, 32-19, with 8:34 left. The run came courtesy of Elmore, West and freshman Darius George. USM went on a run of its own and cut MU’s lead to six points with 4:00 left in the half.
The Herd’s defense locked down after that and only allowed one point for the rest of the half and Marshall closed out with a 20-point lead at 47-27.
Elmore led all scorers at intermission with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. Williams added 13 points from a near-perfect 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) field goals and a perfect 2-of-2 (100 percent) from behind the arc. Southern Miss’ Tyree Griffin led his team with 11 points.
Overall, Marshall finished the first half shooting 17-of-32 (53.1 percent) on field goals, 9-of-18 (50 percent) from three-point land and 4-of-5 (80 percent) from the charity stripe. The Herd out-rebounded the Golden Eagles, 22-12, while MU’s defense held USM to 28.6 percent (4-of-14) from behind the arc.
With 7:52 remaining in regulation, Southern Miss capitalized on Marshall not making any field goals during a span of 4:06.
The drought allowed the Golden Eagles to cut Marshall’s lead to 71-60 at the 3:42 mark. Southern Miss’ run continued until it cut Marshall’s lead to six points, but an Elmore 3-pointer with 2:32 left gave Marshall a 74-65 lead. The sides exchanged free throws for the rest of the period, but the Golden Eagles could not overcome the deficit.
“The coaches have done a great job of helping me understand what to do in certain aspects,” Elmore said. “When the game is a little tighter, we’re prone to get stagnant and take bad shots. That’s my job as a point guard and leader of this team to make this team flow smoothly. They made a run, but C.J. (Burks) made a good pass and I knocked down the shot. That’s we do. We trust in each other. It’s a family environment and everyone is close. It was a great team win. We’re excited to get into the championship and hopefully it ends differently this year.”
Marshall finished the game shooting 26-of-51 (51 percent) from the field, 12-of-28 (42.9 percent) from three-pointers and 21-of-25 (84 percent) from the free throw line.
Up next, the Herd will face Western Kentucky in the C-USA Championship on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
WKU beat Old Domion 57-49 in the other semifinal game.