Won, not done: One down, two to go for Herd men’s hoops

Burks’ strong first half, four in double-figures send Marshall to C-USA semifinals

FRISCO, Texas—Thundering Herd men’s basketball advanced to its third-straight Conference USA Tournament semifinal round Thursday night at the Ford Center at the Star, with a 95-81 defeat of the UTSA Roadrunners.

The Herd will face Southern Miss Friday at 12:30 p.m. CST (1:30 p.m. EST), as the ninth seed Golden Eagles upset top seed and regular season conference champion Middle Tennessee in overtime in a game that went final during the second half of Marshall’s quarterfinal contest.

“The kids are pretty good,” D’Antoni said. “We’re getting better. As a program, it’s our 22nd win and that beats that first year I coached. It’s taken three or four years to get here, but we didn’t play a senior (tonight).”

Marshall junior guard C.J. Burks led the Herd’s scoring effort, as he tallied 29 points. Burks was 9-for-16 shooting from the field and a perfect 9-for-9 from the line.

“It starts off with being locked in and being very focused for the game,” Burks said. “The coaching staff did a great job preparing us for this game. We just get all the guys ready and come out with the energy that we need to win games like this.

Three other Herd players reached double-figure scoring in the win. Junior forward Ajdin Penava scored 23 and tallied 12 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. The nation’s regular season leading blocker added two blocks to his stat line, as well, bringing his season total to 126. Additionally, redshirt freshman forward Jannson Williams and junior guard Jon Elmore both scored 15. Elmore also led the team in assists with 11, posting his eighth double-double of the season.

“(Controlling the glass) is all about energy,” Penava said. “(UTSA) is a good rebounding team, we had to be physical, we had to hustle hard and we had to bring energy every defensive play.”

Both teams had trouble shooting from beyond the arc, as Marshall shot 9-for-25 and UTSA shot 8-for-25. The difference came at the free-throw line, where Marshall outscored UTSA 32-17—a 15 point difference in a game that was decided by 14 points.

“Our style of play is taking advantage of whatever the defense gave,” D’Antoni said. “We got a lot of pick-and-roll dunks and that allows our middle guy to roll down the lane. Foul shots, three-point shots and layups, that’s what we try to do.

As the Herd looks ahead to its Friday afternoon matchup against Southern Miss, D’Antoni talked about his preparation plans for the Golden Eagles.

“We don’t coach for the other team,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “It’s all about us. We make them adjust for us. We play our game. (Southern Miss) knows plenty about what we do and how we’re going to it. It’s bringing energy, playing hard; playing our style of defense, playing our style of offense and that’s it.”

If the Herd wins Friday’s matchup, it will face either,  Old Dominion or Western Kentucky in what would be its second-straight conference championship appearance.

“We’re looking forward to the program and I try to tell these kids, it’s all about Marshall. It’s not about you, it’s about Marshall. Just keep putting Marshall out there in front in a good way.”