Charlotte outlasts Herd in opening round of C-USA women’s basketball tournament
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BIRMINGHAM, AL – After barely qualifying for this season’s Conference USA basketball championships as the twelfth seed, the Marshall Thundering Herd women’s basketball team fell at the hands of the Charlotte 49ers Wednesday afternoon at Bartow Arena, 71-66.
The Herd came out like gangbusters in the opening frame, playing fast-paced basketball in an attempt to dictate the tempo of the game. Marshall never trailed by more than five in the first quarter, overcoming a dreadful 19 percent shooting percentage from the field to take a two-point lead heading into the second. Their momentum looked as if it would carry over through the second quarter, too.
On offense, Marshall found more shots in the half-court, thanks mainly to better ball movement. Defensively, the Herd’s zone defense stymied the offensively-gifted 49ers early on in the second frame. MU was able to keep the ball out of Lefty Webster’s hands, who torched the Herd in their last meeting with Charlotte, scoring 17 points in that matchup.
However, as the second quarter waned, Charlotte seemingly shifted out of first gear, on both ends of the court. The 49ers doubled-up the Herd in second quarter scoring, 19-8, but more importantly, their defense stopped the hot-shooting Herd in their tracks. Marshall was unable to score for the final six minutes and 10 seconds, as UNCC raced ahead by nine points heading into the halftime break.
From there, it looked like it would be all Charlotte. But, as they say, that’s why you play the game.
The 49ers immediately asserted their dominance at the outset of the second half, getting the ball into the hands of Ciara Gregory, who led the team with eight points in the third quarter. Less than two minutes into the period, Marshall found itself behind by 14 points, the largest deficit of the game to that point.
Charlotte was able to keep the Herd at arm’s length the rest of the quarter, staving off a 12-point frame from Shayna Gore to take a 52-45 lead into the final quarter. But, Marshall’s offense came alive again in the fourth quarter.
Led by Gore, the Herd made a furious run, going on a 13-0 run midway through the fourth to take their first lead since the 5:30 mark of the second quarter. Gore scored 10 of her 27 total points in the fourth quarter, but the run ultimately fell short, as Charlotte clamped down on defense late.
Despite a sloppy game from the 49ers standpoint, head coach Cara Consuegra was still proud of her team.
“Three weeks ago, we don’t win that game,” Consuegra said. “That just shows the progress we’ve had, our competitive spirit, our effort, our will to win. We did not have an answer for [Marshall] offensively.”
While Charlotte struggled to hold onto the ball, finishing with 18 turnovers, the Herd played a fairly clean game, setting a new school record for fewest turnovers committed in the postseason, with just five. However, Marshall struggled putting the ball into the basket, going on long scoring droughts that allowed the 49ers to extend their lead.
“I challenged our kids with about six and half minutes left to hold them to 68,” head coach Matt Daniel said. “I knew we were undefeated if we held teams to 68. We didn’t hold them, and 68 wouldn’t have been enough because we only had 66. But, if we had done anything offensively in the first half, it would be a different game.”
With the loss, the Thundering Herd are eliminated from C-USA tournament play, bringing an end to their season. They finished tied for eleventh place in the regular season standings, with a 13-16 overall record.
Jake Griffith can be contacted at [email protected]