Written by Justin Prince.
The Marshall men’s basketball team advanced to the Conference USA Championship game for the second consecutive season by knocking off the ninth seeded Southern Miss Golden Eagles 85-75 on Friday afternoon in a semi-final matchup.
The Golden Eagles playing in their third game in three days and, after knocking off top seeded Middle Tennessee in overtime, traded baskets with the Thundering Herd early on. But, Marshall used an 11-0 run to break a 19-19 tie and take a 30-19 lead and went on to take a 20 point lead into the halftime break.
Jon Elmore led Marshall with 26 points but also dropped nine dimes and brought down nine rebounds just barely missing out on his third triple-double of the season. It would’ve been only the second triple-double in C-USA tournament history.
“I thought Jon was phenomenal today,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “He hit shots, he got other guys involved. But that’s just what he does and what he’s done all year.”
The Herd stretched its lead in the second half to as many as 24 before the Golden Eagles were able to make a run a whittle it down to as few as six with a little over 3 minutes to play.
“Sometimes these guys get big leads and they get a little disengaged mentally,” D’Antoni said. “We took our foot off the gas a little bit so we’ve still got to do a better job of finishing strong at times.”
Part of the reason for the Southern Miss rally was the loss of Herd big man Ajdin Penava, who missed a large portion of the second half after going down with an ankle injury. Earlier in the season Penava missed multiple games with a similar injury to his ankle. With the nation’s leading shot blocker out, the Golden Eagles were able to find success getting to the basket inside.
D’Antoni said it would be rough to have to play the title game without the Bosnian junior.
“It’d be a major challenge. Really tough to have to go without him,” D’Antoni said. “But, I think he’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Penava finished the day with 12 points, four boards and a couple of blocked shots, but the real story is the continued emergence of Jannson Williams. The redshirt freshman was the Herd’s number two scorer with 17 points on 5-6 shooting while also grabbing five rebounds. It was the third straight game for Williams with at least 13 points.
C.J. Burks chipped in 13 and Jarrod West dumped in 12 more to round out the double figure scorers for the Herd.
Marshall now awaits the winner of Western Kentucky and Old Dominion for its championship showdown. Four of the Herd’s six Conference USA losses came to the Hilltoppers and the Monarchs as both teams swept the Thundering Herd in the regular season.
The CUSA Championship game will tip-off tomorrow, March 10, at 8:30 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network