It isn’t the oldest rivalry in college sports, but over the last three years it has been one of the most entertaining. However, thanks to conference realignment, that rivalry will come to an end tonight in Orlando, FL when Marshall and UCF meet for the final time as conference foes.
UCF will move on to the Big East next season and there’s no future plans for the two schools to meet as non-conference opponents anytime soon.
There’s never been any love lost between the Herd and the Knights, going all the way back to the Mid-American Conference days, but the rivalry heated up when former Herd Head Coach Donnie Jones unexpectedly bolted for Orlando. Herd fans felt betrayed by Jones, who was one of their own, a Point Pleasant, W.Va. native, and former Marshall assistant spurred the hometown fans for what he felt was a better opportunity.
Marshall fans have not forgotten that and each year since, dates with UCF are circled on the calendar. Since 2010, when Jones took over in Orlando and Tom Herrion took the reins of the Marshall basketball program, The Herd has won 3 of 5 against the Knights, all three wins coming at the Cam Henderson Center.
The most memorable of the three may have been the 83-69 win over the Knights in Jones first return trip to the Cam Henderson Center. Jones, who was obviously anxious about his return, sneaked in through a different tunnel and had a police escort as fans unrelentingly poured boos down on him and his team. The Knights entered the game ranked 18th in the country and undefeated but left with its tail tucked between its legs after the 24 point drubbing.
Since then most of the players that Jones recruited to Marshall and the left, have moved on from the Thundering Herd program. The current players don’t harbor the same personal grudge against Jones and the Knights, but the fans still do and always will.
What has been one of the most fun and intense rivalries closes tonight, all in the name of progress. It will be sad to see such a meaningful game absent from next year’s schedule.
What better way could there be for Marshall to send UCF off to the Big East than to snap a nine game road losing streak with one final win over the hated Knights and sweep UCF in what has otherwise been a forgettable season?
I can’t think of one.