Written by Justin Prince.
After 40 minutes of basketball Saturday night, the Marshall Thundering Herd and the Blazers of Alabama-Birmingham were deadlocked at 76 and headed for overtime in a crucial Conference USA clash.
Marshall had lead by as many as nine in the second half but could never put the Blazers away and UAB stormed back to tie the game with just 24 seconds left after a Chris Cokley lay up.
As the Thundering Herd walked off the court for a quick breather before the overtime session would tip-off, it would be understandable if they felt a bit tense after letting the lead slip away. But, instead, as the players got to the bench area head coach Dan D’Antoni greeted them with an enthusiastic smile.
“Isn’t it great to get to play five more minutes of basketball in front of this crowd,” D’Antoni asked his players.
Teams often reflect their coach and Marshall came out in overtime reflecting the enthusiasm of its sideline leader as the Herd’s C.J. Burks quickly attacked the basket drawing a foul on UAB’s Zach Bryant. Burks would sink both free throw attempts and the Herd grabbed a two-point advantage.
The Blazers would answer like they had much of the night by going into the post to Cokley who took a Nick Norton assist and flushed it home to tie things back up at 78. After the teams traded a few empty possessions Marshall’s Ajdin Penava hit a three to put his team up 81-78.
This time UAB wouldn’t answer and the Herd made them pay. Jon Elmore found fellow junior Rondale Watson open for Marshall’s second straight 3-point field goal and just like that the Herd had a six-point lead.
The Blazers would miss some more shots and Burks would go back to the foul line and swish home two more foul shots to set the final score 86-78 and the Herd escaped the Cam Henderson Center with its second big win of the week.
“That’s a good team we just beat,” D’Antoni said. “They were expected to either compete for or win the conference championship. Poor us, we were picked in the bottom half, so our climb is pretty good, now we just have to keep getting better.”
Marshall was once again led by it’s big three of Burks, Elmore and Penava. The three juniors combined for 55 points, led by 24 from Burks, while Elmore registered his second triple double of the season scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists.
Penava recorded a double-doube with 17 points and 11 rebounds while also blocking six shots running his season total up to 86, which leads the nation. Watson was the Herd’s other double-digit scorer dropping in 16 off the bench.
Marshall will get a full week off before heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for a rematch with WKU. The Hilltoppers handed the Herd its only home loss of the season earlier this month 112-87. In that game Penava played just four minutes before an ankle injury forced him to the bench.
WKU currently sits in a three-way tie for first place at 6-1 in league play along with Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion. The Herd is one game back with a 5-2 C-USA record.