MCGILL: Free Throw, Defensive Stand Put Herd in C-USA Semis
Jon Elmore hit the game-winning free throw with 2.5 seconds left
Box Score (PDF)
By Chuck McGill
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.
Marshall’s Friday semifinal is the second of two games at Legacy Arena. Top seed Middle Tennessee will face fourth-seeded UTEP at 12:30 p.m. The winners play Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the championship game.