BOGACZYK: @HerdMBB Beats the Buzzer Twice ... Then Wins Again
The Word on the Herd - March 5, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall finished its 2015-16 home basketball season Saturday night, proving a couple of axioms that are as worn out as the Henderson Center crowd of 6,431 had to feel.
It's not how you start, but how you finish ... or ... There's a first time for everything.
There's also this ... Really, how many basketball fans got to witness three buzzer-beaters on the same floor in fewer than 51 hours?
After a basket-trading, 97-94 Thursday night loss ended by a halfcourt Louisiana Tech buzzer-beater, it didn't seem that Herd hoops could get any more downright compelling with 20-loss Southern Miss visiting for the regular-season finale.
Well, as someone once said ... That's why they play the game.
Marshall, trailing by as much as 23 points 11 minutes into the game, came off the hardwood and scored two baskets with less than one second on the clock -- to end regulation and overtime -- and escaped with a 108-106 victory over the Golden Eagles on Austin Loop's left-wing jumper that just beat the horn.
The Herd wasn't quite finished rallying even then, however, having clinched one of the four byes in next week's Conference USA Tournament.
With Western Kentucky upsetting visiting Louisiana Tech, 96-90 -- also in overtime -- Marshall moved via a three-team tiebreaker from the No. 4 to 3 seed for the 13-team tourney in Birmingham, Ala.
The Herd will play the nightcap of Thursday's quarterfinal round, against the winner of Wednesday night's UTEP-FIU game that matches seeds No. 6 and 11.
"That was amazing," said Herd point guard Jon Elmore, summing up the Herd's reversal of fortunes on the floor about as succinctly as possible.
Marshall (16-15, 12-6) won despite 40 points by Southern Miss guard Kourtlin Jackson -- the first 40-point performance against the Herd since Eastern Michigan's Derrick Dial went for 45 in a home win over the Herd on Jan. 5, 1998. Jackson's scoring is the C-USA game high this season.
"We didn't have an answer for him most of the game," Elmore said.
Golden Eagles Coach Doc Sadler was ejected with 4:55 remaining in regulation following his second technical foul. The Herd lost Ryan Taylor -- again -- and Stevie Browning to personals. USM (8-21, 5-13), playing its final game of the season because of NCAA sanction issues, lost Jackson and two other starters to fouls.
Wait ... There's more.
The Herd's James Kelly -- on his Senior Night -- had his 14th double-double of the season with 24 points and 12 rebounds in 41 minutes. His first five boards made him only the second player in Herd history -- joining 1970s star Russell Lee -- with 600 points and 300 rebounds in a season.
That wasn't his big deal, however.
On a play that worked just as Coach Dan D'Antoni designed it, Kelly sent the game into OT at 98-98 when he broke from the foul circle around a CJ Burks screen, and tipped home Elmore's baseline inbounds pass at the regulation buzzer.
"We didn't have much time left," Elmore said. "It was point-3 (00.3 when the officials added one-tenth of a second during back-to-back timeouts); then it was point-4. That's not a whole lot of time. I think basically it's got to be a tip-in.
"Coach D'Antoni drew up a heckuva play; James got open. James jumped over everybody because that's what he can do and he finished it, so that was sweet."
Elmore did more than talk a good game. The 6-foot-3 point guard played the best one of his first Marshall season. His season-high 35 points included perfection on 15 free throws to go with eight assists, two blocks, a steal, two crucial charges taken ... and no turnovers in his 43 minutes.
Indeed, the most significant statistic in a game stuffed with plenty was Marshall's second-half and overtime turnover number -- two. The Herd didn't turn it over the first 10:54 of the half, and didn't turn it over in the final 11:25 of regulation and overtime.
The Herd had whittled into the Southern Miss lead repeatedly, but the Golden Eagles still led 85-75 with five minutes left. To explain Marshall's long night, there's this: When D'Antoni's club went up 96-95 on an Elmore drive with 26.6 seconds left in regulation, it was the Herd's first lead since Loop's game-opening 3-pointer.
The redshirt junior started the scoring for the Herd, and then he ended it when he launched a jumper with his feet barely on the 3-point stripe with 00.9 of an overtime tick on the clock.
The horn went off ... the backboard red light came on ... and the ball swished -- and Loop was mobbed by his teammates near halfcourt -- after his only two-point attempt of the game.
It gave Loop double figures (11 points). It gave the Herd much more, avoiding a four-game losing skid entering tournament play and that bye. A loss would have pushed MU to the No. 5 seed and into a Wednesday tourney opener.
Marshall got the ball after USM's Keljin Blevins was called for an offensive charge with 08.2 to go.
"I didn't really didn't know what we were going to do," said Elmore, who brought the ball down the floor on the final possession. "We were going to run the high pick-and-roll; the play broke down a little bit -- the clock was ticking.
"I saw Austin in the (left) corner. I'd been talking to him the whole game, `Man, you're going to hit this next shot; you're going to hit this next shot. You're going to hit this next shot.' He did it, so hats off to him."
A day after Loop and Elmore were named to the C-USA All-Academic Team, the former admitted to a boneheaded move after getting Elmore's pass that could have brought a second OT.
"The play broke down," Loop said. "I tried to dribble (after catching Elmore's pass); I don't know what I was thinking, and (Southern Miss defender Robert Thomas) knew I wasn't going to the basket, either.
"I pulled it back out to throw it back to Jon and I couldn't look at the clock in time, so I didn't know if I had time to get it to him and he'd get it off. So, I stepped back and just threw it up.
"I mean, it was contested. (Thomas) didn't bite on the dribble. So, luckily, God was looking out for me on that shot, because it went in.
"That's the best one ever after shooting like that (3-of-9 from 3-point range) ... I've never made a buzzer beater before. I've made big shots with two or three seconds to go through the net and they stopped the clock, but I've never had a ball in the air as the buzzer goes off and it goes in.
"Never. Never. So, maybe over the years, I was due for one, I guess."
Marshall shot 68 percent in the second half, then 4-of-9 in OT to get its game percentage up to .500 -- the 11th time in 18 C-USA games the Herd has reached that percentage. D'Antoni's club needed that kind of accuracy to get back in it, because Marshall missed its final 16 threes of the first half after Loop's opening salvo.
Southern Miss, an offensively challenged club that came to town averaging only 62.9 points per game -- ranking No. 340 of 351 Division I teams -- routed Marshall on the glass, 47-29, and the Golden Eagles' 15 hoops behind the arc (in 30 attempts) were a season high against the Herd.
"They came out hot, they weren't missing," Loop said. "We had a rough start (trailing 23-7 after 6½ minutes), couldn't get shots to fall ... It was a grind ... The funny thing about it was all game, I struggled to make a shot. I guess I was saving it up for the right time."
The victory gave the Herd not only a No. 3 tournament seed -- its highest in 11 seasons in C-USA -- but the 12 wins also are the high for Marshall in C-USA, the most in league play since the 2000-01 Herd went 12-6 in the Mid-American Conference. That '00-01 team also was Marshall's last with a No. 3 seed.
Marshall also finished 7-2 in C-USA home dates, the most Henderson Center league wins since joining C-USA in 2005-06.
The victory was Marshall's first in overtime at "The Cam" since a 121-115 triple-OT win over UCF on Feb. 27, 2010.
"Our team never gave up," D'Antoni said. "They kept fighting all the way to the end, even when we were down 23 at one point."
Burks also provided plenty of relief -- 33 minutes, with 18 points with four assists.
"That was a lot of fun; the crowd was amazing," Elmore said. "Like Loop said, we struggled most of the game. We couldn't hit a shot, get a stop. They hit shot-after-shot. We didn't give up. That was the whole thing. We had guys come off the bench, we had guys foul out and never once did we stop playing hard.
"We didn't quit on one another," Elmore said. "We could have thrown in the towel at any point, but we didn't quit.
"The word of the night is `amazing.'''