Loop hits game winner in overtime to secure victory, three seed in conference tournament

Junior+guard+Austin+Loop+handles+the+ball+on+a+fast+break+in+a+game+earlier+this+season.+Loop+hit+the+game-winning+buzzer-beater+Saturday.

Ryan Fischer

Junior guard Austin Loop handles the ball on a fast break in a game earlier this season. Loop hit the game-winning buzzer-beater Saturday.

Marshall University men’s basketball defeated the University of Southern Mississippi Saturday on a last-second, buzzer-beating field goal just days after losing a game in similar heartbreaking fashion to Louisiana Tech University.

Junior guard Austin Loop knocked down a step back jumper as the buzzer sounded to secure a 108-106 overtime victory and give the Herd a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which starts Wednesday.

Loop’s game-winning play, was made possible by another buzzer-beating field goal at the end of regulation, in which senior forward James Kelly caught an out-of-bounds lob to tie the game at 98 as the buzzer sounded.

Loop finished the game with 11 points on 4-10 shooting, while Kelly recorded a double-double with 24 points and 102 rebounds, but it was sophomore guard Jon Elmore who brought the team back from an early deficit and poured in a career-high 35 points to go with eight assists.

Despite the emotion in the arena for the team’s senior night, Marshall found itself down 30-9 early on in the contest, largely due to Southern Mississippi’s Kourtlin Jackson, who had 18 points a mere five minutes into the game.

The Herd cut the deficit to 14 at about the seven-minute mark of the first half after going on a 7-2 run. However, Southern Miss responded with a 10-2 run just before the half as the lead swelled back up to 17 by intermission.

Marshall’s offense couldn’t keep pace with the Golden Eagles in the first half of action as its 3-point shots were not falling. Marshall went just 1-17 from 3 in the first half.

As the second half got underway, the deficit grew with Marshall trailing by a game-high 21 points with about 16 and a half minutes remaining.

Kelly eventually got things going for the Herd from downtown, when he nailed a 3 at the 16:23 mark to cut the lead to 18. Kelly’s trey peeled the lid off the rim as Loop, who scored 8 points in the second half, drained a second consecutive 3-pointer on the next possession.

While the threes were falling for the Herd, they were also falling for Southern Miss as Marshall’s perimeter defense struggled to close out on 3-point shooters. Southern Miss’ Michael O’Donnell hit Southern Miss’ fifth 3-pointer of the half to move the lead back to 17.

The Herd responded, however, over the next five minutes. Marshall would go on a 14-4 run to close the gap to seven. With the deficit under double digits, the Herd continued its push toward a victory.

With just 27 seconds left, Marshall took its first lead of the night, but, after three straight made free throws by the Golden Eagles, Marshall trailed by two.

With 0.4 seconds remaining, Kelly converted the out-of-timeout lob to send the game into overtime, meaning a free frame of hoops for everyone in attendance.

Marshall took an early lead in the overtime session, but Southern Miss, despite being without its leading scorer in Jackson, who dropped 40 before fouling out, and its head coach who was ejected would not go away. With two minutes left, Marshall trailed by two before James Kelly hit a 3-pointer to give the Herd a one-point advantage.

Southern Miss converted one of two at the line, before Loop launched his game-winning shot after receiving a pass from Elmore on the left wing.

After the game Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said he was proud of the team’s resiliency to respond from such a large deficit.

“Our team never gave up,” D’Antoni said. “They kept fighting all the way to the end, even when we were down 23 at one point.”

With the victory and a loss by Louisiana Tech University, the Herd secured the three seed and a bye in the Conference USA Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Herd will face the winner of Wednesday’s FIU-UTEP matchup 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Jake griffith can be contacted at [email protected]