BIRMINGHAM, AL – As the Marshall men’s basketball team huddled just seconds before Friday’s Conference USA semifinals tipped off, senior guard Stevie Browning shouted to his teammates, “We aren’t going home today!”
The task was tall, the opponent, Louisiana Tech, was skilled, but as has been the case this postseason, the Thundering Herd found a way to prevail, upending the higher-seeded Bulldogs 93-77, making Browning’s pregame prophecy come true.
Marshall was able dictate the tempo early on in the first half, despite falling behind early. Junior La. Tech forward Omar Sherman paced the “Dunkin’ Dogs” with early back-to-back buckets to put them ahead. But, Marshall charged back through their signature three-pointer-centered offense.
Junior Jon Elmore tied the game at six points apiece less than three minutes into the game thanks to a long, straight-away three from the top of the key. From there, the Herd caught fire from beyond the arc. Browning drilled a three moments later, followed up by a Adijin Penava trey at the 12:58 mark to put Marshall up by five points.
The Herd continued to light it up from downtown as the half continued, growing their lead to as large as 16 points before taking a nine-point advantage into the halftime break. Marshall converted 14 threes in the opening half, just one shy of the C-USA record for most made in a single game.
The second half was no different for Big Green, as they continued to hold off the Bulldogs. La. Tech made a furious runaround the 13-minute mark to cut the lead to just three points, but Marshall had an answer for everything Louisiana Tech threw its way.
After the under-12-minute media timeout, Marshall went on a 10-4 run over the following 2:57 to extend its lead back to nine points, 72-63. The Herd would continue to add to La. Tech’s deficit, both at the free throw line and behind the arc, keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive and advancing to the next round.
While many may be surprised by the result, head coach Dan D’Antoni was not among that group. The former-NBA assistant coach said after the game his team expects to play like they did Friday.
“We shot the ball like we should. If you watch us every day, that’s our strength, who we are,” D’Antoni said. “We did a nice job…We’ve got to continue to do that. That’s our flavor of the day. Defensively, we picked it up pretty well. We turned them over enough to get stops. We’ve got a good group of kids. I thought our sets were a lot sharper. I’m happy for them and we move on to play another day.”
With the win, Marshall improves to 20-14 on the year, a date with top-seeded Middle Tennessee awaiting them Saturday night in the C-USA Championship game. After falling twice this season at the hands of the Blue Raiders, Jon Elmore and the Herd understand what is at stake come Saturday.
“We know we’ve got a big game ahead of us tomorrow,” Elmore said. “We’re not doing something that was not expected for us. We’re playing well and we’re excited for tomorrow.”
Saturday will mark just the second time in school history the Thundering Herd will be playing for the C-USA men’s basketball championship. The last tie came in 2012, when the Herd, again as a six seed, advanced to the title game, falling to Memphis. A win propels the Herd to the NCAA Tournament, something they have not reached in 30 years.
The final game of this season’s Conference USA tournament tips-off Saturday at 8 pm ET. The game can be viewed on the CBS Sports Network.
With 19 made three-pointers, the Thundering Herd set a new conference record for made threes in the tournament. The previous high was set by East Carolina in 2012 with 15.
Senior Austin Loop moved into sole possession of fourth place in C-USA history in three-point field goals made with 289 for his career after going 6-of-8 Friday.
Loop’s 75 percent three-point shooting performance ties him for seventh-best in C-USA tournament history
Marshall is 10-5 on the year when four or more players score in double-figures. Elmore had 21, Ryan Taylor finished with 19 and Stevie Browning and Loop tossed in 18 on Friday.Friday against
Jake Griffith can be contacted at [email protected]