Written by Justin Prince.
When two teams combine to score 180 points in a college basketball game, one would assume defense was not a big part of the final outcome.
In the case of the Marshall Thundering Herd’s 93-87 win over the Toledo Rockets on Saturday night those assumptions would be wrong.
With three minutes remaining Marshall trailed the home-standing Rockets by eight, 87-79. The Herd defense was magnificent over the final 180 seconds forcing the Toledo to go 0-6 from the field while also causing the Rockets to commit a pair of costly turnovers.
Marshall’s offense took advantage of the defensive effort and scored 14 unanswered points to come from behind and get the Herd’s first non-conference road victory since the 2011 season.
Ajdin Penava was tremendous for the Herd scoring 24 points to go with eight rebounds but it was the 6-9 junior’s defensive presence that made the most difference.
Penava, who was third nationally in blocks per game entering the contest, collected four more blocks against the Rockets, but the ever improving European product altered several more. He also nabbed four steals as his length gave Toledo’s offense fits.
Most impressively Penava played the final eight minutes of the game with four fouls and remained an effective inside force despite the foul trouble. It was a crucial stretch that saw the Herd slowly climb back into the game after falling behind by 11 before it’s final surge in the last three-minutes snuffed out the Rockets.
Marshall tied the game on a Penava layup with 55 seconds to play. On the ensuing possession C.J. Burks picked Tre’Shaun Fletcher’s pocket and finished on the other end with an emphatic slam to give the Herd its first lead since Marshall lead 53-52 with more than 14 minutes to go.
Toledo tried to tie the game at 89 a piece on a Jaelan Sanford driving layup but a Penava block put the ball into Jon Elmore’s hands who the Rockets were forced to foul.
Elmore an 86 percent foul shooter on the season had struggled at the line Saturday night making just 8-16 as he stepped to the line with 24 seconds remaining to try and add to the Herd’s two point lead. Elmore hit nothing but net on both and the Herd went up 91-87 to essentially put the game out of reach.
Another Penava block led to a Dani Koljanin jam to put the exclamation point on the Marshall come from behind win and set the final score at 93-87.
Elmore, Burks and freshman Jarrod West joined Penava in double figures to pace the Herd.
The Rockets were lead by Fletcher who had a career high 31 points in a losing effort. The win moved Marshall to 7-3 on the season while Toledo fell to 5-4.
The Herd will be back inside the Cam Henderson Center next Saturday to take on another MAC foe in the Ohio Bobcats. That game was originally scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off but was pushed back to 8 p.m. to accommodate fans that wanted to watch the finish of the Marshall football team’s bowl game against Colorado State.