HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — With second-leading scorer C.J. Burks sidelined by illness, Marshall overcame a scoreless first half by Jon Elmore to beat Southern Miss 85-66 in their Conference USA opener Thursday night.
Wake Forest transfer Rondale Watson scored 20 points in his third game for the Herd (10-4, 1-0), while Ajdin Penava produced 18 points and 15 rebounds.
Elmore, whose 23 points per game rank seventh in the nation, didn’t score until hitting a free throw with 18:04 left in the game. That put the Herd up by 13 after leading 35-25 at the half.
“We were up 10 and he hadn’t scored,” coach Dan D’Antoni said of Elmore. “When would that ever happen?”
Elmore still scored in double figures for he 49th consecutive game, finishing with 13 points and 11 assists as Marshall improved to 9-0 at home.
“I thought Jon did a great job,” said freshman guard Jarrod West, who picked up the slack by scoring 14 of his 15 points in the first half. “He was attacking the basket well and I thought he was dishing off as well.
“People were open on the perimeter every time he was getting into the paint and he was kicking the ball out. He wasn’t scoring, but his impact on the game was still there. He did a great job of being unselfish.”
Tyree Griffin’s 19 points led Southern Miss (7-7, 0-1), while Cortez Edwards scored 18. The Eagles were outebounded 47-26.
“I think the most disappointing thing was our second-half defense,” USM coach Doc Sadler said. “At halftime, you’re holding a team averaging 90 points per game to 35 and you’re feeling good, and offensively you just didn’t shoot well. You shoot 66 percent in the second but allow 50 points on the other end.
“We just didn’t have any fight at all on the defensive end and boards in the second half. We didn’t fight, and opening in the league on the road, you have to play harder than people to have a chance.”
Penava’s four blocked shots were right on his nation-leading average.