History made, in the making as Herd wins game one

Marshall, WVU to face off Sunday for the first time in three years.


SAN DIEGO — Kelly green invaded Viejas Arena Friday morning at San Diego State University, as the Marshall men’s basketball team made history and downed Wichita State 81-75, to win its first-ever NCAA Tournament contest. Marshall, the 13 seed in the East region, extended its winning streak to five games and ended the Shockers’ five-year streak of winning at least one game in the NCAA Tournament.

“Long time.” Marshall head coach D’Antoni said. “We’ve never done it before. That was the first time in school history that we’ve won a tournament game, except for my NIT team where we won two. So, we’ve got a little bit to do.”

For the third-straight game, Marshall junior guard Jon Elmore led the Herd in scoring with 27 points. Elmore’s output was tied with Wichita State’s Conner Frankamp for the game-high. Elmore was the only game’s player to compete for the full 40 minutes. He shot 6-for-13 from the field, 4-for-8 from beyond the arc and 11-for-15 from the free throw line. The Conference USA Tournament MVP also tallied four rebounds, four assists and two steals. In Marshall’s four postseason matchups thus far (including three C-USA Tournament games), Elmore has combined for 95 total points, 30 assists, 20 rebounds and four steals.

“If you took all four stats together, scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, there is no one in the country that matches him in all (four) categories,” D’Antoni said in the post-game press conference. “He did it all year long. Jon is a special player, and he’s proven that year-round.”

Four of the Herd’s five starters reached double-digit scoring. Junior forward Ajdin Penava scored 16 points, blocked three shots and retrieved eight rebounds, while junior guard C.J. Burks scored 13 and redshirt freshman forward Jannson Williams added 10. Williams accomplished double-digit scoring in four of his last five games, combining for 63 total points.

West, Marshall’s only starter without double-digit scoring, tallied nine points, four rebounds, four steals and two assists. The Herd’s starting five accounted for 75 of its 81 total points, as junior guard Rondale Watson and freshman guard Darius George were Marshall’s only bench players to see in-game action.

“We didn’t want to settle tonight,” Elmore said. “We wanted to attack them all 40 minutes. We got some of their bigs in foul trouble early. We had some good driving lanes. Threw a couple of alley-oops that set the roof on fire, but that’s Marshall basketball. I want to credit teammates. They made huge plays down the stretch and without that we wouldn’t have won. Just a great win.”

Both teams entered the game ranked top-20 in the nation in scoring offense (Marshall 11th at more than 84 points per game, Wichita State 18th at 83 points per game) and Wichita State’s starting center Shaquille Morris posed a threat inside the paint for the Herd. The 6-foot-8, 279-pound senior scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his 25 minutes of play.

Marshall’s defense, however, offset Morris by forcing 15 Shocker turnovers (two by Morris) on 12 steals. Despite being out-rebounded 44-30, Marshall outscored Wichita State 27-7 in points off turnovers and from the line, 16-13.

“Every play, I want to play (Morris) out, get around him, get him in foul trouble, get the assist” Elmore said. “I don’t care who you put on me, I’m going to attack you 40 minutes, and that’s what we did tonight.”

The Herd advances to the round of 32, played Sunday at Viejas Arena, as it matches up against its in-state rival—the Mountaineers of West Virginia University—for the first time since 2015. Last time the teams met, the No. 8 Mountaineers bested the Herd 86-68. WVU sat at No. 15 in the AP poll at the end of the regular season. The Herd, though, won against a No. 24 Middle Tennessee team less than two weeks ago (March 3).

“Let’s enjoy this a little bit and we’ll get ready for West Virginia and I really don’t have to worry,” D’Antoni said. “These are all gym rats. They’re going to be ready to go when it’s time to go.”

Rick Farlow can be contacted at [email protected]