— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Media members gathered for Marshall University coach Dan D’Antoni’s postgame news conference kind of knew what to expect.
The Thundering Herd, needing a win to enhance its standing for the last four conference games of the season, found itself down 61-44 to UAB with 10:19 left in the Conference USA game Thursday night at Cam Henderson Center.
Marshall suddenly found a different gear and cut the lead to 67-65 with 3:05 left, giving the crowd of 5,521 hope it could complete a much-needed comeback.
Instead, the Blazers showed resolve down the stretch and held on for a 77-68 victory to snap a four-game losing streak and continue the Herd’s slide as it’s lost six of its last seven C-USA games after starting out 5-0.
“Ever since I’ve been here I’ve not seen that. So lackadaisical,” said D’Antoni, who’s in his fifth season. “Other than that I have nothing to say.”
Oh but the former Marshall guard did continue his rant.
“Life is about strength and passion. You’ve got to have it,” D’Antoni said. “Don’t look for the roses for this one. Marshall means too much to me to not go down without a fight.
“No focus. So careless all the way around. We’re little so we don’t have much room to give. I don’t like our spirit from No. 1 (player) down to the 15th guy. We’re capable of doing it. We’ve got to prep better. We’ve got to find it by the next game.”
Marshall (13-13, 6-7 C-USA) no longer can reach the first pod (first through fifth) for C-USA’s final four-game schedule known as Bonus Play. Western Kentucky and Southern Miss both won Thursday, meaning the Herd has to work to finish in the second pod (sixth through 10th). Marshall’s next game is 2 p.m. Saturday at home against Middle Tennessee.
UAB (15-11, 7-6) enjoyed the typical edge in several key categories. The Blazers prevailed 38-18 in the paint, 17-3 in points off turnovers, 18-5 in second-chance points and 25-14 in bench points. The Blazers are back in action Saturday at Western Kentucky and are likely to finish in pod two. All teams will know their positions and schedules after Saturday’s play. The four-game Bonus Play begins Feb. 23.
Makhtar Gueye and Lewis Sullivan led the Blazers with double doubles. Gueye had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Sullivan netted 16 and grabbed 10 boards. Zack Bryant followed with 14 points.
Jon Elmore paced the Herd with 20 points. Taevion Kinsey added 11, but 10 came in the first half. C.J. Burks and Jannson Williams added 10 each.
Elmore, who helped the Herd win its first C-USA championship a year ago, didn’t spend much time with the media in his post-game visit.
“To play like that. We’re down 15 to 17 and it’s almost impossible to win,” Elmore said. “We flip a switch and get it to two, three. We get everybody’s best shot. They see we’re losing games left and right. They can’t wait to come in and beat us on our court. We have to look inward. Players make plays.”
UAB coach Robert Ehsan admitted to not feeling comfortable even though his team led by 17 halfway through the second half.
“With Elmore and Burks, I was scared to death,” Ehsan said. “I’ve seen them do it so many times. They might have been a little tired at the end.”
UAB’s biggest late-game play came with 48 seconds left and the lead three at 70-67. The Blazers had trouble making an inbounds pass, Tavin Lovan broke down the floor, tracked down a long high pass and raced in for a layup and got fouled by Darius George. He made the free throw for a 73-67 lead and that sealed it.
“Lovan’s basket was a huge play,” Ehsan said. “We need a few bounces to go our way.”
UAB now leads the series against the Herd, 19-7.