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MCGILL: Staggering Stats as Herd Hoops Enters C-USA Play

Dec. 26, 2017

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As the Marshall men’s basketball team transitions from non-league play to the Conference USA portion of the schedule this week, the list of team accomplishments, individual statistical performances and record-breaking paces is a long one.

The Thundering Herd is 9-4 entering Thursday’s home game against Southern Mississippi, which is the best 13-game start in the four-year Dan D’Antoni era. Marshall has a nine-game winning streak inside the Henderson Center, and owns an 18-game home winning streak in November and December. Overall, D’Antoni and his “Danalytics” approach has produced a 31-5 record at home in the last 36 games, including 8-0 this season.

Those are staggering figures on which one can chew as a post-Christmas dessert, but there are other numbers and notes that deserve mention during this short holiday respite.

Jon Elmore

It should come as no surprise, but Elmore, in his repeat junior season, has been one of Division I’s best guards. The Charleston native is averaging 23.7 points, 7.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. He ranks seventh nationally in scoring and tied for seventh in assists, making him one of two players – along with Oklahoma’s fabulous freshman Trae Young – in the top 10 in both categories.



Elmore now ranks No. 21 on the program’s career scoring list with 1,380 points, passing names like Hal Greer and both D’Antoni brothers, Mike and Dan. In this season’s 13 games, Elmore has passed 23 players on the all-time scoring list, and he has inched into the top 10 in career assists and 3-pointers.

By the way, only one player in Herd history has finished in the top 10 in career points and career assists: Skip Henderson, who is the all-time leading scorer and No. 7 all-time in assists. Elmore needs 231 points to join the exclusive club, which means Elmore could accomplish the feat in the next 10 games, barring injury or something unforeseen.

As for the season record books, if Elmore can maintain his 2017-18 pace of production, he will have the third-most points and the second-most assists in a single season in program history. He is on pace to shoot and make more free throws than anyone in school history.

Ajdin Penava

Somehow, Elmore might not have the most impressive numbers on the team. Penava, Marshall’s 6-foot-9 junior forward, is averaging 19.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and has a nation-leading 64 blocked shots this season.

Penava is one of the most versatile players in college basketball. Among the nation’s top 10 shot blockers, Penava is the only one averaging more than 1.0 three-pointers per game; the only one averaging at least 1.5 assists per game; the only one averaging at least 1.5 steals per game. He is also shooting 3s at a 42.9-percent clip. You won't see a perimeter percentage like that out of other feared shot blockers.

Penava is on pace to have the second-best shot blocking season in Marshall history, next to Hassan Whiteside’s record-setting 2009-10 season. Whiteside holds the school record with 182 blocked shots, and Penava is on pace to finish with 152. Penava now has 110 career blocked shots, which ranks No. 9 in school history. He entered this season with 46 career blocks, so his pace puts him on track to break Whiteside’s school record for career rejections by the end of the regular season.

Overall, Penava has seven games of at least six blocked shots. Whiteside had 12 such games in 2009-10, but no one else has had more than two. Penava has four games of six-plus blocked shots in the last five games, and three games of nine blocks in the same span.

Whiteside had four games with nine or more blocked shots in 2009-10. Penava has three. Only three other players ever accomplished the feat once: Nigel Spikes, Latece Williams and Omar Roland.

Penava is getting better, too. In the past five games, he is averaging 21.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.6 blocks.

C.J. Burks

The 6-4 Martinsburg native has been elevated from sixth man to the Herd’s second scoring option behind Elmore. Burks is averaging 19.9 points, up from 9.8 last season.

The scoring average is worth noting for this reason: Marshall has twice had a pair of 20-plus scorers on the same team, and it hasn’t happened in 60 years.

In 1955-56, the tandem of Charlie Slack (22.6 points per game) and Cebe Price (21.2) accomplished the feat. Then, two years later, Leo Byrd (24.9) and Hal Greer (23.6) did it.

Overall, 27 players have averaged 20 or more points in a season at Marshall, but it hasn’t been done by two players in the same season since Byrd and Greer roamed the court together.

The team

Marshall is averaging 89.2 points per game, which would rank No. 4 in program history. The Herd is on pace for 2,766 points, which would be the third-most all-time. This team is on pace to finish in the top five for blocked shots, assists and 3-pointers.

Like all D’Antoni teams, Marshall is scoring. This season, however, is different. In 2014-15, D’Antoni’s rookie season on the sidelines, the Herd scored 35.0 percent of its points from beyond the arc. The next season, 35.1 percent of points came on 3s. Last year, the number rose slightly to 35.6 percent. This year, the Herd is eschewing the principles of “Danalytics” and scoring inside the arc and at the foul line – only 31.0 percent of points are from 3-point land.

Marshall is evolving, and it is doing it without the benefit of many seniors. The Herd only rosters three seniors: Milan Mijovic, Ot Elmore and Marcus Reed. They have accounted for 30 points, 13 assists and 28 rebounds. Non-seniors have accounted for 97.4 percent of the points, 94.3 percent of the assists and 94.1 percent of the rebounds.

That should inspire optimism in every Herd fan as conference play commences and the calendar flips to 2018.