MCGILL: Records, Rare Feats Among Herd Hoops Highlights
The Word on the Herd -- March 23, 2018
By Chuck McGill
In the moments after Marshall’s season ended in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the voice of departing senior Ot Elmore drowned out others in the locker room as he implored his teammates to remember what they accomplished: the unprecedented and the rarely seen.
As one might know by now, this year’s Thundering Herd vanquished its postseason demons, captured its first Conference USA championship and received a Big Dance berth for the first time in 31 years. What followed elevated a season from unusual to unrivaled, as the Herd became the 28th No. 13 seed in the 34 years since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams (now 68) to defeat a No. 4 seed (Wichita State). That was Marshall’s first tournament win. Ever.
The Herd had never defeated multiple Top 25 teams in the same season, as it did in 2017-18, and records fell by the wayside. Dan D’Antoni’s fourth year saw the most points, most 3s and most assists by a Herd team in program history. The players accomplished the unforeseen, too.
Junior guard Jon Elmore, the C-USA tournament MVP, scored a school-record 816 points, dished out a school-record 244 assists and grabbed 210 rebounds. He is the first person in NCAA Division I basketball since at least 1985-86 to surpass 800 points, 200 assists and 200 rebounds in the same season.
Let that sink in.
Players like Stephen Curry of Davidson and Kemba Walker of UConn flirted with those thresholds, but couldn’t put together the season Elmore did in 36 games with the Herd. Curry scored 974 points as a junior in 2008-09, but fell 49 rebounds and 11 assists shy of 200. Walker, a junior in 2010-11, scored 965 points and grabbed 223 rebounds, but missed the trifecta with 184 assists.
In that 33-season stretch, eight players eclipsed 750 points, 150 rebounds and 150 assists in a single season, but the other seven couldn’t push all three categories to where Elmore did this season. That’s worth a bow, Jon.
Elmore set four individual school records for a single season: points, free throws, free throws attempted and assists. He has 1,888 career points and 596 career assists after three seasons, and should he duplicate his junior numbers next season, he will exit as the program’s record-holder in both categories.
Elmore made national headlines for his performance in Marshall’s first round upset of Wichita State. He scored 27 points and wowed a national audience with an array of long-range 3s, spin moves and nifty passes. He had the third-highest point total in a 13-versus-4 upset in NCAA tournament history. Kenny Hasbrouck scored 30 in Siena’s 83-62 win against Vanderbilt a decade ago, and Xavier’s Byron Larkin – the brother of Cincinnati Reds legend Barry Larkin – scored 29 points in the Musketeers’ 1-point win against Missouri in 1987, the last time the Herd made the Big Dance.
Elmore teamed with C.J. Burks as the top scoring duo in the country. Burks finished with 702 points, the fifth-most in school history. Elmore and Burks became the first tandem to each eclipse 700 points since 2009-10, when Duke’s Jon Scheyer (728) and Kyle Singler (707) did it. One must also understand how difficult it is to reach 700 points in a single season. In 2011-12, only six players crossed that barrier in the entire country, three of whom were Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Weber State’s Damian Lillard and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum.
Burks had a special season, too. He averaged 20.1 points per game and hit 86 of 236 3-pointers (36.4 percent). He also hit 96 of 108 free throws, good for 88.9 percent. He is one of 26 players in Division I basketball since 1992-93 to eclipse 700 points, 80 3s and shoot at least 88 percent from the line in the same season. You’ll find other familiar names on that list: Jimmer Fredette, Stephen Curry, Buddy Hield, Damian Lillard, Juan Dixon, Marshall Henderson and J.J. Redick.
Another guard, Jarrod West, had a standout season as a freshman. He hit 63 3-pointers, tied for the third-most by a Herd freshman all-time. Kareem Canty holds the top spot with 65, followed by Frank Martin with 64 and Joda Burgess with 63. West’s 57 steals were the most ever by a Marshall freshman.
But enough about the guards. What about the Herd’s do-it-all forward, Ajdin Penava?
The 6-foot-9, 220-pound junior forward is one of the least imposing players to lead the nation in blocked shots. Since 1985-86, only one player – Northwestern State’s 6-7 William Mosley – led the nation in blocked shots at a shorter stature than Penava. Mosley was also listed at 220 pounds. Last year’s leading shot-blocker, Nicholls State center Liam Thomas, was listed at 195 pounds.
Penava averaged 15.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. That’s the most points per game averaged by the nation’s leader in rejections since 2003-04, when UConn’s Emeka Okafor scored 17.6 per game. Penava hit the most 3-pointers, 33, by the nation’s leader in blocked shots ever – besting Deng Gai of Fairfield’s 19 in 2004-05.
Penava was one of the country’s most versatile players. He was one of 11 players in the last 26 years to score at least 500 points, grab 250 rebounds, block 100 shots and record 50 assists. There are big names with him on that list, including UConn’s Donyell Marshall (1993-94), Georgetown’s Mike Sweetney (2002-03), Colgate’s Adonal Foyle (1996-97), Massachusetts’ Marcus Camby (1995-96) and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (2011-12). Some guy named Tim Duncan accomplished the feat three times. If Penava can post those numbers again in 2018-19, he and Duncan will be the only players to accomplish the feat multiple times.
By the way, D’Antoni became the first coach in Marshall hoops history to improve his team’s win total each of the first four seasons at the helm: 11 to 17 to 20 to 25.
Ot Elmore was correct. This team did plenty that had never been done before, and paved the way for the rare to become less so in the future.