— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall’s Jon Elmore departed the arena Thursday night in a much better mood than the last three times he exited after a game.
Elmore, senior guard from Charleston, pumped home a career-high 44 points to power the Thundering Herd to a 91-86 Conference USA win over UTEP in front of 5,765 fans inside Cam Henderson Center.
Elmore and his teammates had gone through some trying times the past few days as Marshall concluded a week-long, three-game road trip 0-3 with losses at Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss.
“It felt good. We finally made some shots as a team, I finally made some shots, too,” Elmore said. “I wanted to cry at one point I was so happy to see the ball hit the bottom of the net. I haven’t seen that a whole lot lately. I’m happy as I can be, honest.”
Elmore made 14 of 23 shots, 7 of 12 from three-point range, and converted 9 of 10 frees to generate his first 40-plus point effort and equal the sixth-best single-game point total in program history. Other Herd players who hit for at least 44 in a game include DeAndre Kane, Keith Veney, Bunny Gibson, George Stone, Ronald Blackshear, Walt Waloac and Skip Henderson, who did so three time. Elmore’s output is tied for fourth-most in a game in C-USA history.
Marshall (13-9, 6-3 C-USA) finds itself in a four-way tie for second in the league standings along with UTSA, North Texas and UAB. Old Dominion used its home win over North Texas on Thursday to take the lead at 7-3. The Herd is back in action Saturday at home against UTSA, which lost in overtime at Western Kentucky on Thursday. Game time is 7 p.m.
Before going off Thursday, Elmore’s numbers in the three-game skid were 17 vs. WKU, 8 vs. LA Tech and 11 vs. Southern Miss.
“Keep being Jon the coaches and my teammates told me,” Elmore said. “We moved the ball so much better. We were having fun, playing loose. It’s easy to get in your head and think things are falling apart. I got down on myself the past few weeks. It’s like I hit a wall. I was fed up. We’ve shown glimpses. It’s a matter of piecing it together like we did tonight.”
UTEP coach Rodney Terry said the Herd’s experience paid off. Seeing Elmore deliver is no surprise. Elmore scored 26 points in the second half.
“We’ve played three straight games when they’ve had seniors on the floor and tonight we let one that’s really, really good (Elmore) – and will have his jersey hanging in the rafters – got off to a great start. He’s a really good player and played great tonight.”
Efie Odigie led the Miners (7-13, 2-7 C-USA) with 22 points and a team-high 20 rebounds for a double double. Nigel Hawkins also had 22 points. Leading scorer Evan Gilyard managed just 7 as UTEP falls to 0-8 away from home. Counting Jordan Lathon (15 points) and Kaosi Ezeagu (four), the young Miners had four rookies account for a freshman-record 63 points.
Jansson Williams added 11 points for the Herd along with a career-best eight of the team’s 10 blocked shots.
“After the week we had, this felt amazing,” Williams said. “Everybody missed our crowd. The goal was to rush them, make them play at a faster pace.”
When Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni scanned over the final score sheet, he saw good numbers and bad. UTEP led in rebounds 48-29, points in the paint 42-30 and second-chance points 27-10. Marshall, though, forced 20 turnovers and shot 31 of 67 from the field (46.3 percent) and 11 of 29 from behind the arc (37.9). The Herd is No. 2 in the league in scoring and tops in three-pointers (210).
“Be careful. There are bigger stats in the ball game,” D’Antoni said. “When we can shoot those numbers, we’re tough to beat. We were moving the ball better. Keep working and you’ll hit a hot streak. Tonight was the right time. Jon was Johnny Buckets again. C.J. (Burks) came on strong in the second half.”
D’Antoni admitted he had a difficult Sunday reflecting on the three straight road defeats. After a few moments, he was over it and pointing to this two-game homestand.
“We got tagged,” he said about the 101-51 loss at Southern Miss. “The question was, ‘how long would I stay on the couch?’ I was up and running.”
Marshall’s biggest lead was 12 (58-46) with 14:25 to play. The Miners got within three twice down the home stretch, but Elmore converted 5 of 6 free throws to seal the deal.