Marshall sweeps series with No. 24 Middle Tennessee
By CHIP CIRILLO, Associated Press
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Apparently, Marshall knows something no one else in Conference USA knows.
The Thundering Herd were the only league team to beat No. 24 Middle Tennessee and they did it twice, including Saturday night’s 76-67 win.
“I think they have a hard time with the way they pressure and when you bring two to the ball against us we spread the ball pretty good,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “We have shooters. I think the biggest thing is to keep the floor spread and then make them chase a long way when they start pressuring.”
Jon Elmore, the C-USA’s leading scorer, led the way with 23 points as the Thundering Herd (21-10, 12-6) ended Middle’s 11-game winning streak.
Marshall redshirt freshman Jannson Williams came off the bench to record a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“We counter-punched all night,” Elmore said. “Coach always preaches it’s a game of runs and I think we really capitalized on our runs and minimized some of theirs. I think our two best defensive games of the year have been against Middle and hopefully we can keep that up going forward. We kind of run guys at you non-stop.”
The Blue Raiders (24-6, 16-2) shot only 42 percent against the Herd on Saturday and 40 percent during a 73-63 loss on Jan. 18 at Marshall.
The Blue Raiders won their first two games since earning the first national ranking in school history by double-digit margins, but trailed for over 29 minutes against the Herd.
“Marshall has twice out-toughed us and it’s disappointing,” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. “We’ve had really poor guard play. Nick King has (had) the two worst games he’s had all year. He doesn’t want to get on the block. He just wanted to be on the perimeter.”
King, an Alabama transfer, scored 18 but struggled at the foul line where he missed 8 of 11. He scored 14 in the first loss to Marshall on a 6-of-19 shooting shortly after injuring his ankle.
“I just felt like we didn’t come out locked in,” said King, a 73 percent foul shooter who missed his first three free throws. “We had a lot of defensive mistakes, couldn’t get into the flow of the offense. I think mental things can get to players.
“I’ve got to be a lot stronger than that and just think about the next shot.”
Middle led 57-56 with 8:28 left before Marshall rallied for the road win.
Middle struggled at the foul line, missing 13 of 26. Brandon Walters led the Blue Raiders with 20 points.
C.J. Burks scored 20 points and Marshall’s bench outscored Middle 26-9.
Marshall: The Thundering Herd played their two best defensive games in wins over Middle.
Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders’ guards struggled in two losses to the Herd.
PLAYER OF YEAR BATTLE
King and Elmore are the leading candidates for C-USA Player of the Year. “You don’t really worry about it,” Elmore said. “You do see all the Twitter stuff and everybody talking. I just know we’ve beat Middle twice and we’re probably going to have to go through them again to win the tournament, so that’s our focus going forward and hopefully we made a statement.”
OUT OF RANKINGS?
The loss might knock Middle out of the Top 25 entering the postseason. “We’re just going to go with the mindset to win it and that’s all we’re going to do,” Davis said of the C-USA Tournament. “Our resume is what it is. College Game Day bragged about our team today nationally, but we didn’t back it up today in the arena and that’s just where it’s at.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Marshall hit 22 of 27 foul shots to win its first game in seven tries at the Murphy Center. . Giddy Potts scored 11 for the Blue Raiders, who clinched the C-USA regular-season title Thursday night. . Dominating the defensive boards and shooting 52 percent from the field, Marshall took a 36-33 halftime lead.
Marshall advances to the C-USA Tournament that begins Wednesday in Frisco, Texas.
Middle Tennessee earned a first-round bye as the top seed in the C-USA Tournament and will play in Thursday’s quarterfinals.