Written by Justin Prince.
No Penava, no problem.
The Marshall men’s basketball team was without the services of the nation’s leading shot blocker, Ajdin Penava, Thursday night against the Charlotte 49ers following an injury to the big European in the team’s last game against Western Kentucky.
It turns out the Thundering Herd didn’t need him as they downed Charlotte 91-83 on the road to move to 12-5 on the season and 3-1 in Conference USA play.
Marshall got off to a fast start jumping out 27-16 on the 49ers about midway through the first half before things got a little sloppy. The team’s combined for 20 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and Charlotte managed to cut the lead to just two points at the break, 40-38.
In the second half the Herd led by double digits most of the way thanks in part to the play of juniors C.J. Burks and Rondale Watson. In the opening six minutes of half number two Burks poured in 15 of his team and career high 32 as Marshall stretched its two point lead to 10.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Marshall coach Dan D’antoni said referring to scoring explosion by Burks. “He’s a scoring machine he can do it inside, he can do it outside, he’s strong to the hole with his dribble. I just never get surprised with C.J. or any time he or Jon (Elmore) do something.”
But, as Burks started to cool off from his hot start to the second period it was Watson’s turn to get in on the action. The Lewisburg, West Virginia product scored 15 of his 20 points which tied his career high, after halftime including several nice finishes around the rim and Marshall gained control of the game leading by as many as many 14 in the games final minutes.
“I was a little worried coming in here,” D’antoni said. “We ere a little thin and not as healthy as we needed to be but I thought everyone stepped, played hard and we found a way to win. It was a good ball game.”
Among those who stepped up were Jannson Williams, Ot Elmore and Phil Bledsoe. Williams made his first start in replace of Penava and though he isn’t the country’s most prolific shot blocker he did swat away three 49er attempts while scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds before fouling out.
Ot and Bledsoe played a combined 31 minutes as the duo saw their first significant amount of game time in over a month. Bledsoe finished with six points and five boards while Ot didn’t score but still grabbed three rebounds and made a couple of nice passes that lead to scores.
“In a game like this where their bigs aren’t a factor as far as scoring we were able to get Ot in there,” D’antoni said. “As small as he is he got in there and really wrestled a rebound away and was very aggressive. I’m happy for him, happy he was able to get on the floor and he helped us win this ball game.”
Jon Elmore scored 19 points and filled up the stat sheet with six rebounds, five assists and three steals while freshman Jarrod West scored Marshall’s last five points to hel set the final score at 91-83.
The Herd will get tomorrow off as the team travels up the Eastern coast to Virginia for a Saturday clash with Old Dominion. Tip-off for that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN 3.