— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — There were two familiar faces in the media room Thursday night ready to put the spin on Marshall University’s 96-84 Conference USA win over Florida Atlantic in front of 6,196 fans at Cam Henderson Center.
Senior guards C.J. Burks and Jon Elmore, as they often have over their careers, took to the microphone after they proved too much for the opposition to handle.
Burks totaled 30 points to match his season high and Elmore 29. Burks collected six assists and Elmore a game-high seven. Burks pulled down five rebounds and Elmore four.
“It was a game of runs,” Elmore said. “Ultimately we had the biggest run. On offense we got a lot of easy baskets. We played real fast. That’s the Marshall style of basketball we want to play.”
It was a nice bounce back for Burks, who had four points in Saturday’s 70-69 home win over Western Kentucky.
“It was a bad night. I don’t dwell in the past,” Burks said. “Coach (Dan D’Antoni) and the players picked me up. When you have two high-caliber guards click at the same time, it’s going to be rough for the other team.”
Marshall’s biggest second-half lead was 78-64 with 8:08 left, but shorthanded FAU wouldn’t go away. The Owls got to within six (90-84) with 31 seconds left. Elmore then made two free throws and Burks four down the stretch to seal the win.
“Jon and C.J. led the way,” D’Antoni said. “They have to shoulder the load.”
The performance by the Thundering Herd guards didn’t surprise FAU coach Dusty May.
“The all-league guards played like all-league guards,” May said. “They exploited everything we don’t do well.”
Marshall (11-6 overall, 4-0 C-USA) is back in action Saturday at home against FIU. Game time is 7 p.m. FAU (11-7, 2-3) has a Saturday matinee at Western Kentucky.
Marshall had a big edge in several other categories. The Herd won points in the paint (32-24), forced 21 turnovers to its 11 and had a 32-10 edge in points off turnovers.
“Thirty-two points off turnovers. The difference in the game,” D’Antoni said. “Ninety-six points and just 11 turnovers. We keep the floor spread. Aggressive defense and come down and let it fly. Hillbilly Ball. That’s how we play. Wild and wonderful.”
FAU got good play from its guards, too. Michael Forrest led the way with a game-high 32 points and Anthony Adger had 18. Forrest hit 6 of 10 three-pointers.
May said the Owls, who had 10 players dressed, had to play big at times and that hurt.
“So few people. We had to play the bigs,” he said. “They attacked us. They forced the non-playmakers to make plays. We compete at a high level. They just didn’t allow us to get over the hump. The did enough to put us away.”
Elmore said the Owls battled to the end.
“They hit a lot of tough shots down the stretch,” he said. “Keep an eye on them. I’m glad to get them out of the way.”
Marshall’s won six in a row against the Owls and lead the all-time series 7-2.
Marshall is alone in first in C-USA now. Middle Tennessee dropped UTSA, 89-86, for the first league loss for the Roadrunners (4-1). That ended their winning streak at seven. It was the first league win for the Blue Raiders.
FIU improved to 12-6, 3-2 in C-USA with a 77-76 win at Western Kentucky on Thursday night. The Hilltoppers, who were picked in preseason to win the league, are now 1-3. Then Panthers trailed by 16 points with just over 11 minutes to play in the second half. The Herd goes to WKU on Monday night for the big rematch.