FRISCO, Texas – There will be a new conference champion crowned by Conference USA over the weekend.
A late push by third-seeded Southern Miss propelled the Golden Eagles to an 82-73 win over sixth-seeded and defending conference champion Marshall Thursday night in a quarterfinal match at the Conference USA Championship inside Ford Center at The Star.
“Other than being on the losing end, that was a hell of a ballgame,” Thundering Herd head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “(Southern Miss head coach) Doc (Sadler)’s team did well.”
Marshall had a three-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining after C.J. Burks converted a three-point play but a 9-1 Golden Eagles run sent Southern Miss ahead 70-65 and Doc Sadler’s crew never looked back.
“We applied a lot of defense to them and (Southern Miss) shot the ball extremely well,” D’Antoni said. “It was a high-caliber game.”
Jannson Williams led the Thundering Herd (19-14, 11-7 C-USA) with 22 points. Jon Elmore, in his last game in a Marshall uniform barring a postseason bid, finished with 18 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Taevion Kinsey had 16 points off the bench.
“It’s been a fun ride,” Elmore said regarding his tenure with the Herd. “I wouldn’t trade (my experience) for the world. I was very lucky to be in this position and have coach (D’Antoni) have my back every day.”
Tyree Grifffin had a game-high 23 points for Southern Miss, along with eight assists and four rebounds. LaDavius Draine had 20 points, including six 3-pointers, off the bench for the Golden Eagles, while Leonard Harper-Baker finished with a near double-double, posting 16 points and nine rebounds.
“If it’s a tight ballgame, there’s nobody, not just in this conference but in the country, that I’d rather have the ball than in (Griffin’s) hands and if we can get (Draine) a shot, then we want to get him a shot.”
Draine hit a late 3-pointer that turned out to be a dagger in the Thundering Herd’s championship hopes, a play that D’Antoni referred to as a breakdown.
“They were running a weave and we just stopped guarding and (Draine) hit a wide-open 3-pointer and we followed with a missed layup,” D’Antoni said. “Those plays late kind of cost us in the end.”
Marshall hit 17 3-pointers in the contest but Southern Miss kept the Thundering Herd out of the lane for the majority of the contest, forcing the Herd to take 68.5 percent (37-of-54) of its shots from behind the arc.
“Threes aren’t gonna beat us,” Griffin, one of three seniors in the Southern Miss starting lineup, said. “Coach always tells us if they’re hitting threes but not getting in the lane, we’re not gonna have a problem.
Marshall, one of the worst teams in the country in terms of rebounding margin, also was out-rebounded by 19, 39-20, including an 8-1 advantage for Southern Miss after the final media timeout with 3:54 left.
“Coach always says to box out and not give up second-chance points, and that’s what we did,” Draine said. “We group rebounded and that’s how we out-rebounded (Marshall).”
For now, the Thundering Herd’s season is over, though there is a chance that could change. Marshall may accept a bid to a postseason tournament, though that is still an uncertainty at this point.