BIRMINGHAM, AL – Despite letting a 15-point lead slip through their grasp, the Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball team rallied late in the second half Thursday night to take down the Old Dominion Monarchs, 64-63 in the Conference USA quarterfinals.
The Herd raced out to a quick lead as the Monarchs’ offense floundered. Led by senior guard Stevie Browning and junior forward Terrence Thompson, Marshall opened the game on a 15-0 run. Junior Jon Elmore opened the scoring for MU with a three-pointer 35 seconds into the contest.
After that trey, Browning took over, scoring 11 of his 24 total points in the first half. Defensively, the Herd stood tall against the Monarchs. Old Dominion did not score until the 11:55 mark of the half, a reversal of the two programs’ first meeting this season, where Marshall failed to record a point for the first nine minutes of the game.
Following the under-eight-minute media timeout, the Monarchs caught fire, ending the half on a 20-6 run that allowed them to pull ahead 29-27 as the buzzer sounded for halftime.
After that, neither side was able to fully pull away from the other, both teams trading buckets back and forth in the second half.
Browning was able to pick up where he left off in the first half, pacing the Herd offense with 13 second-half points. But, 17 ODU bench points allowed the Monarchs to keep the game close right down to the wire.
The difference: one of the most overlooked aspects of basketball, free throws. Marshall forced the issue and got the charity stripe 13 times in the second half, compared to just two attempts for Old Dominion. And Big Green made them count, too. Marshall nailed 10 of those 13, including one huge free one down the stretch.
With 11 seconds left, Browning drilled a jumper to put the Herd up by 2, 63-61. But, a defensive breakdown seconds later on the ensuing ODU possession allowed center Brandon Stith to tie the game on a vicious two-hand slam.
The Herd’s insistence on getting to the line, a staple of their game plan, opened the door for them to pull out the win.
Elmore took the inbounds pass and raced ahead up the floor, driving to the basket, drawing the foul in the process with just two seconds remaining. From there, the result was a forgone conclusion.
The junior from Charleston hit one of two at the line, enough to put them ahead for good, as the Herd staved off elimination and moved on to the next round of the C-USA tourney.
Head coach Dan D’Antoni was proud of his team’s unselfishness after the game.
“The way we practice is I try to instill in them is the next play is a play for you,” D’Antoni said. “Don’t be afraid of it. I depend on them to be smart basketball players and understand how they can help us to win. If you have players that are unselfish and don’t need the light on them, they will find the right player to get the ball to as a team.”
Thursday’s contest proved to be a physical one with the much larger Monarchs. Elmore at one point had to be taken out of the game after coming up lame on a hard drive to the hoop. But, the junior was confident in his team’s ability to be ready to go for the next game.
“We’re ready to go, Elmore said. “We could play LA Tech tonight if we had to. It’s a quick turnaround but we’ll be fine.”
Browning had the hottest shooting night of any member of the Herd. The Logan County native went 10-19 from the field. While the unselfishness was on display tonight, the senior was most impressed with his team’s response to the Monarchs’ run to take the lead.
“We didn’t want to let them comeback but it happened,” Browning said. “But that’s a testament to the adversity we’ve faced all year. We pushed through and fought together.”
With the win, Marshall improves to 19-14 on the season and advances to the C-USA semifinals for the second consecutive year. The Herd will face the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Friday at 2 pm on CBS Sports Network. Marshall fell in their only meeting with the Bulldogs this season, a close 94-90 loss in Ruston, Louisiana.
Jake Griffith can be contacted at [email protected]