MCGILL: Record Performance Puts @HerdMBB in C-USA Championship
The 19 3-pointers broke the tournament record
By Chuck McGill
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.
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.