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Burks, defense clinch overtime win for Marshall Men’s Basketball

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Richard Crank
Junior forward Ajdin Penava fights for a turnover on defense. Penava continues to lead the nation in blocks.

Marshall men’s basketball (14-6, 5-2 CUSA) won Saturday night over UAB (13-7, 4-3 CUSA) in overtime in front of a packed Cam Henderson Center by a score of 86-78. With the victory, Marshall knocked off the top two teams in the Conference USA men’s basketball preseason poll in the same week.

“Getting those two big wins, we’ve kind of taken a few on the chin from those two teams the past few years,” junior guard Jon Elmore said. “Getting two in a row like, that’s big.”

The game was off to fast start when UAB scored on their opening drive and went on to lead 9-2 within the first two minutes of the game. Marshall’s junior guard, C.J. Burks, kept the Herd in the game, sinking three threes and a jump shot to keep the Herd trailing by only two after almost seven minutes of play.

“The coaching staff and all the players believe in me,” Burks said. “Everybody knows what I’m capable of doing, and they don’t want me to pass up open shots.”

Burks (24), Peneva (17) and Watson (16) were the high scorers for the Herd in a game where Marshall struggled offensively shooting only 36.8 percent from the field.

Chris Cokley (28) and Nate Darling (21) both scored over twenty points for the Blazers.

“We didn’t even shoot the ball great tonight,” Elmore said. “We locked up defensively, made some huge plays offensively, executed well.”

Where Marshall struggled offensively, they made up for it on the defensive end. They forced UAB into 16 turnovers, had 10 steals, and four blocks.

“I’ve always said we could be a very good defensive team,” head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “(Assistant coach) Scott Rigot does a lot with our defense, and they’re picking it up. They’re taking the challenge, and that’s why we’re looking like we could be a real contender as we get to tournament time.”

The Cam Henderson Center was packed with over 6,700 fans on Saturday night, and Elmore said the players could feel the energy.

“It’s awesome,” Elmore said. “We feed through them. They fire us up. You see us pumping up the crowd, but they’re lighting us up. Hopefully we can keep packing this place and get this place sold out. Such a fun environment. I talk to teams, and they dread coming to Huntington, just because it’s a hard place to play.”

The game seemed to come down to free throws. Marshall shot 100 percent from line, sinking 18-18 free throws. On the other end, UAB uncharacteristically shot 38.5 percent from the free throw line.

“I think we’re ranked number 20 in the country in free throw shooting,” UAB head coach Robert Ehsan said. “We did not obviously shoot them well tonight.”

With the win, the Herd is now one game shy of being in a three-way tie (Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Old Dominion) for first in Conference USA.

Marshall is off until Jan. 27 when they travel to Western Kentucky for the first conference rematch of the season.

“We got eyes set on Western, and we know what they did to us the first time,” Elmore said. “We’re going to get back to the drawing board and get ready to go.”

Courtney Andrews can be reached at [email protected]

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