FRISCO, Texas — After three decades without an NCAA tournament bid, Marshall is back in the bracket.
Jon Elmore scored 20 of his 27 points during the second half when the Herd hung on late to win the Conference USA tournament by upsetting Western Kentucky 67-66.
“I’m happy for these kids and I’m happy for the school,” coach Dan D’Antoni said. “It’s been a long time coming and Marshall basketball kind of fell off.”
The fourth-seeded Herd (24-10) had dropped both regular-season meetings against Western Kentucky (24-10) before Elmore’s deep shooting led to a record-breaking seven 3s Saturday. He also had six assists to cap an MVP performance.
“Jon Elmore is taking it to an even higher level,” D’Antoni said. “Some people think Jon is just a scorer. He’s a top-15 rebounder in this conference and he’s also top six in steals. He’s a complete ballplayer.”
Elmore’s 3-pointer over two defenders put Marshall up 67-55 with 3:40 left, but his team did not score again.
Meanwhile, Western Kentucky reeled off 11 unanswered points and had a chance to complete the rally in the final 10 seconds when Lamont Bearden’s runner in the lane rimmed out. An offensive putback by Josh Anderson didn’t go down either and Marshall finally secured the rebound.
After losing in the C-USA final last year, the Herd had finally clinched its first NCAA bi since 1987.
“We were thinking back about just how last season ended, just the feeling in the locker room,” Elmore said. “Everybody’s heads were down, people were crying, you could have heard a pin drop in there. We didn’t want that again.”
Ajdin Penava had 16 points and nine rebounds, helping Marshall overcome a 2-of-17 shooting night by second-leading scorer C.J. Burks.
“Penava finally came through,” D’Antoni said. “He was shooting his 3s like he did all season.”
Redshirt freshman Jannson Williams scored eight points and pulled down nine rebounds.
WKU’s Justin Johnson, who scored 21 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, said “This one hurts.”
Bearden and Anderson scored 13 each for the Hilltoppers.
“They shot the cover off of it,” said WKU coach Rick Stansbury. “In that second half, Elmore made some from 30 feet that were contested.”
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi in his latest bracketology Saturday night projected Marshall to be a 12-seed. There’s a chance the Herd could open NCAA play against West Virginia.
“This was a phenomenal win for the school,” Elmore said. “We’re not done yet.”