HERD ZONE MCGILL: Herd tough to forecast, but loss doesn’t mean a long winter

Updated 1 week ago Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone
HERD ZONE MCGILL: Herd tough to forecast, but loss doesn’t mean a long winter
MU PHOTO: RICK HAYE

By Chuck McGill

HerdZone.com


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – What will the next six weeks hold? The groundhogs couldn't agree.

Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow Saturday morning, forecasting an early spring. West Virginia's own French Creek Freddie, however, is hunkering down for more winter.

Six weeks from today – March 16 – is the Conference USA men's basketball championship game in Frisco, Texas. After UTSA's 116-106 overtime win against Marshall on Saturday night at the Henderson Center, the basketball Phils and Freddies are probably struggling to predict where the Thundering Herd will be that day.

Marshall is 13-10 overall and 6-4 in Conference USA play. The Herd finished 1-1 during this brief homestand, is 3-3 in its last six games, 6-6 in its last 12, 8-8 in its last 16 and 10-10 in its last 20. Marshall is, obviously, still a work in progress.

"Overall, we have to keep getting better," fifth-year MU coach Dan D'Antoni said after the game. "It's a long season. Both teams will probably be tough to handle at the end of the year."

After all, that is how last season unfolded. On Feb. 1, 2018 – one day before Groundhog Day – Marshall also lost to UTSA, but down in San Antonio. That dropped the Herd to 14-8 overall and 5-4 in league play. After the beloved rodent had his day, though, Marshall won 11 out of 14 games, including seven of nine in C-USA play, and celebrated its first Conference USA championship.

Marshall has flashed the same potential in 2018-19, and had encouraging spurts against the visiting Roadrunners in front of 7,182 fans Saturday night. Senior guard C.J. Burks, who made all four of his 3s in the first half, finished with 31 points and five rebounds. Fellow senior Jon Elmore, who poured in a career-high 44 points on Thursday night, scored 29 and made a clutch shot in the waning moments that gave his team a chance to win it at the end of regulation and in overtime.

With Marshall trailing 92-88 following a UTSA free throw with eight seconds left, Elmore launched and drained a 3 from the left wing and was fouled in the act of shooting. Elmore calmly sank the free throw with 4.4 seconds left to tie the game, and then the Herd received another chance when UTSA star Jhivvan Jackson lost the ball out of bounds.

Marshall senior Rondale Watson, who tied a season high with 19 points, had his jumper bounced around the rim and out as the horn sounded.

"We got a great look at the end," D'Antoni said. "Jon made a terrific 4-point play and we got a real good look at the end of regulation; that thing went down and saw the bottom of the net and came back out."

UTSA outscored the Herd 24-14 in overtime and won by double digits. The game featured 81 made shots, including 23 3-pointers, and 222 points.

"Tough loss," D'Antoni said. "That's tough, man."

D'Antoni, not often short on words, had few after watching the Herd squander an 8-point halftime lead. He lauded the defense, though, for the effort to keep UTSA's potent scorers in check. Roadrunners coach Steve Henson said Marshall defenders took his team out of its offense, but that Jackson and Keaton Wallace helped whittle away at the deficit anyway by making shots while challenged.

"Two teams that love to get up and down the court and two teams with star power," Henson said. "Marshall totally dictated the first half. I thought we came out and played a little better in the second half. We didn't make some plays at the end of regulation that were disappointing, but in overtime we did."

UTSA made all five of its shots in overtime, including a trio of 3-pointers, and finished 11 of 12 from the foul line in the extra five-minute period. Jackson, who scored 46 on Thursday night at Western Kentucky, followed up with 30 points Saturday night – and was not close to his team's leading scorer. Wallace made 15 of 24 shots to finish with 45 points and seven rebounds.

"This is a game of made shots and they made them," D'Antoni said. "They shot the lights out of it."

Marshall will try to steer its season to another sunny finish starting next Thursday at North Texas in the start of a two-game Texas swing.

Notes:

Elmore broke a tie with John Taft and moved into second place on Marshall's all-time scoring list. Elmore is 213 points from tying Skip Henderson for the school record.

Elmore also moved into second place on Conference USA's all-time scoring list with 2,361 points, passing UTEP legend Randy Culpepper. Elmore is 95 points behind another UTEP star, Stefon Jackson, for a share of the league's scoring record.

Elmore passed UCF's Jermaine Taylor for fifth place in C-USA history for field goals made. Elmore has 714; Taylor had 710 from 2006-09.

Elmore is one assist shy of tying UTEP's Julyan Stone for the Conference USA career assists record with 714. Elmore had eight assists Saturday night to give him 713 for his career.

Burks broke a tie with Mark Dorris for career steals, moving into sole possession of 12th place in program history with 127. Burks is two behind DeAndre Kane (129 steals) for No. 11 in school history.

Sophomore guard Jarrod West recorded a career high seven rebounds. He also collected two steals, tying him with Shawn Moore (1992-95) for No. 18 in school history with 112. West has 55 steals on the season is tied for the 10th-most in a single season in program history. West is one of two players in Marshall history to have two seasons with 55-plus steals, joining Sidney Coles (75 in 1995-96; 72 in 1996-97).

Freshman guard Taevion Kinsey, known for his knack of playing above the rim, made a career-high three 3-pointers and finished with 15 points.

Chuck McGill is the Assistant Athletic Director for Fan/Donor Engagement and Communications at Marshall University and a six-time winner of the National Sports Media Association West Virginia Sportswriter of the Year award. In addition to HerdZone.com's Word on the Herd, McGill is the editor of Thundering Herd Illustrated, Marshall's official athletics publication. Follow him on Twitter (@chuckmcgill) and Instagram (wordontheherd).

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