MCGILL: Elmore Shines in Spotlight; WVU Looms Next
The Word on the Herd -- March 16, 2018
By Chuck McGill
SAN DIEGO – The spotlight will be on the Mountain State this Sunday when the state’s only two Division I men’s basketball programs – Marshall and West Virginia – meet here at the Viejas Arena for a spot in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16.
College basketball fans nationwide will learn that a tiny state ranked No. 39 in population is big on hoops. After Friday morning’s performance here – the game tipped around 10:30 a.m., on San Diego State’s campus – one man is no longer unknown.
Jon Elmore is the new Stephen Curry, Harold Arceneaux and Bryce Drew. Arceneaux was nicknamed “The Show” when he dazzled in the 1999 Big Dance. After the Herd’s 81-75 upset of fourth-seeded Wichita State in the first of four games in this building on Friday, Elmore could hijack that nickname. He became must-see TV for basketball fans, celebrity and otherwise.
“Jon Elmore can play!” tweeted Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell.
With every flashy pass or 3-pointer from Tijuana, social media exploded in praise of Elmore, a native of Charleston, West Virginia.
“Jon Elmore is my favorite player in the history of the world,” read one tweet. “Jon Elmore just won over America,” another tweet read. Soon after the game, Houston Rockets star Chris Paul, who plays for the brother of MU coach Dan D’Antoni, offered congratulations.
Elmore finished with 27 points on six field goals, four of which were 3s. He shot from 30 feet away from the basket. He shot with a defender in his face. His final two 3s – with 13:11 and 7:16 left in the second half – tied the game.
“I thought there were a lot of big plays in this game, obviously, but one of the big plays was they had the ball out in a short shot clock, may have been 3 or 4 seconds,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said, “and they threw it to him in front of their bench and he made an incredible 3-point shot.”
That shot and others were soon made into short videos or GIFs and shared worldwide. Marshall was the No. 1 trending topic on the social media website Twitter.
Elmore tied the school record for points by a Marshall player in an NCAA tournament game with 27, first accomplished 62 years ago by Cebe Price against Morehead State. He moved within 3 points of Skip Henderson’s school record for points in a season and is one assist shy from equaling Mike D’Antoni’s single season program mark.
During Friday’s win, Elmore passed South Florida’s B.B. Waldon on the Conference USA career scoring list, moving into ninth-place all-time. Elmore has 1,873 points in 95 career games, and has scored in double figures in 70 consecutive games. He is sixth in C-USA history with 592 career assists. He is averaging 26.2 points per game over his last seven games.
“I am used to seeing that,” Marshall junior guard Rondale Watson said. “That is normal to me. You guys might not be used to seeing it, but I have been playing against Jon since we were little kids and he has always been like that. He is a great player and he works his tail off each and every day. He is a great leader and I am happy to call him my teammate.”
Marshall and WVU will meet in men’s basketball for the first time since Dec. 17, 2015, an 86-68 win by the Mountaineers at the Charleston Civic Center. The series, which West Virginia leads 33-11, did not continue after that game. It had been played 39 consecutive years, from 1977-78 to 2015-16.
The Mountaineers have won five consecutive games against the Herd. Marshall has won four times since the turn of the century: 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2011. WVU was nationally ranked in ’06 and ’11.
The teams have never met in the NCAA tournament or outside the state of West Virginia.
Jarrod West, Marshall’s true freshman guard, will face his father’s college team on Sunday. West’s father, also named Jarrod, became a March Madness hero when he hit a game-winning shot to help WVU defeat Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati team on March 14, 1998, in Boise Idaho. West will face his father’s team 20 years and four days after the famous game-winner.
By defeating Wichita State, which finished the season ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, this Marshall team made history. The Herd defeated two ranked teams for the first time in school history and has its first back-to-back wins against Top 25 teams in program history.
Marshall beat Middle Tennessee, ranked No. 24 at the time, on the road on March 3, so MU has beaten two ranked teams in a 13-day span after going a seven-year stretch without a Top 25 victory. West Virginia offers another opportunity, as the Mountaineers finished the regular season ranked No. 15 – one spot ahead of the Shockers.
Marshall finished 16 of 22 from the free throw line, a 72.7 percent clip that is the Herd’s best performance ever in six trips to the NCAA tournament.
Meanwhile, junior forward Ajdin Penava made 6 of 9 shots from the field – 66.7 percent – the best performance by a Herd player in an NCAA tournament (minimum of five shots made).
The Herd only played juniors and freshmen against the Shockers. Wichita State started three seniors, a junior and a sophomore, and played six seniors overall.