C-USA BASKETBALL RECAP: MIDDLE TENNESSEE AT MARSHALL
In a rematch of last year’s Conference USA Tournament final, the home team got a taste of sweet revenge. Marshall handed the back-to-back champion Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders their first loss in a 73-63 home win that The Herd absolutely needed in order to stay within striking distance of the top teams in Conference USA.
Since Dan D’Antoni took over as head coach, the offense has been the name of the game for Marshall, but last night their defense took center stage. The easy buckets at the rim that plagued the Marshall defense the last few games evaporated. The Herd held Middle Tennessee to 40.3% shooting from the field and forced 19 turnovers.
The return of junior shot-blocking phenom Ajdin Penava was a huge boost. In his first game back after suffering an ankle injury during a blowout loss against Western Kentucky, Penava blocked 6 shots - he could’ve had 8 or 9 - to go along with a team-leading 7 rebounds. More importantly, he gave Marshall an imposing post presence that Middle Tennessee was never able to deal with.
Penava stuck a dagger in the Blue Raiders’ comeback bid with a behind-the-back dribble en route to a fastbreak that generated a standing ovation from the Cam Henderson crowd. He ended the game with 17 points - and recognition for the flashiest bucket of the night.
C.J. Burks was the catalyst on offense. He led the team with 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting from the floor. When Middle Tennessee took the lead at the start of the second half on a Giddy Potts three, the Thundering Herd thundered back with a 12-2 run spurred by three Burks shots from beyond the arc - he ended the game with five total. They didn’t surrender the lead for the rest of the game.
Jon Elmore struggled from the field for most of the game but more than made up for it by getting to the line, crashing the boards, and creating for his teammates. Elmore finished with 19 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds.
Besides the extraordinary defensive effort, it was surprising how well Marshall was able to execute in the half court once Middle Tennessee tried to slow the game down. The most impressive aspect of this Marshall win is that even though the pace of play would seem to have favored Middle Tennessee’s style, the Herd were still able to outplay them throughout.
Marshall will hope to ride this winning feeling into the weekend. They host the UAB Blazers (13-6 overall, 4-2 C-USA) on Saturday.
Go Herd! Go Herd! Go Herd! pic.twitter.com/hFWHSAY0dA— Marshall Men's Hoops (@HerdMBB) January 19, 2018
For Middle Tennessee, the loss brings up some serious questions about their ability to generate offense.
Nick King is now looking at his second disappointing performance in a row. His final stats don’t look horrible - 14 points and 9 rebounds. However, he missed 13 of his 19 shots from the field and his jump shot looked broken. King also accounted for 6 turnovers.
Giddy Potts helped lead the Blue Raiders with 15 points, and while he was their most consistent contributor, even he tailed off towards the end of the game.
Antwain Johnson pitched in with another 15 points off the bench, but without big games from King or Potts, Middle Tennessee just didn’t get enough from the rest of their team. For the Blue Raiders to succeed moving forward, they will need to find scoring answers. The most Middle Tennessee has scored in a Conference USA game this season is 72 points last week against Louisiana Tech. That’s not good enough.
The Blue Raiders have little time to linger on this tough loss. They head to Bowling Green to play the conference-leading Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (14-5 overall, 6-0 C-USA) on Saturday in a matchup of the two best records in Conference USA.
Kermit Davis after @MT_MBB’s 73-63 loss at Marshall:— Erik Bacharach (@ErikBacharach) January 19, 2018
“We’re not the dominant team that we were last year. We’re just not. We’re going to have to fight and claw. It’s going to be a race.”https://t.co/9CdRItyXKG
Other Conference USA Scores
Charlotte 64, FAU 75
Old Dominion 64, FIU 54
North Texas 65, Louisiana Tech 66
Rice 75, Southern Miss 86
UAB 69, Western Kentucky 77
beIN SPORTS heads to Birmingham next week. Tune in to watch the UAB Blazers (13-6 overall, 4-2 C-USA) host the UTEP Miners (7-11 overall, 2-4 C-USA) at 8:00 PM ET / 7:00 PM CT.