HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — On a night when Marshall sent off one of the most successful senior classes in the history of its program, a freshman was instrumental in helping the Herd get past Wisconsin Green Bay.
Taevion Kinsey posted his first career double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds Thursday to help lift Marshall to a 90-70 victory over the Phoenix in the CollegInsider.com Tournament title game at Cam Henderson Center.
“Winning a championship is hard. I don’t care where or when it is,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “There were twenty-six teams in this and all of them are .500 or better. It’s difficult and I’ve always said there are four teams happy at the end of the season. We’re happy to be one of them.”
Kinsey was the perfect complement to Herd senior guard C.J. Burks, who garnered game MVP honors after leading all players with 28 points.
“My mentality is basically whoever steps in front of me can’t guard me,” said Burks, the fifth-leading scorer in Marshall history.
Kinsey, an athletic wing player who has shown promise throughout his freshman campaign, provided the Herd (23-14) with much-needed energy in the opening half and helped them pull away down the stretch.
He had nine points and three rebounds through the opening 20 minutes, during which Marshall never led after an early 3-2 advantage.
“He played really, really well,” D’Antoni said of Kinsey. “He plays efficiently and without many mistakes. He was up to the task.”
Green Bay (21-17) took its biggest lead of the game at 37-24 at the 6:11 mark of the first half when leading scorer Sandy Cohen made a 3-pointer.
But the Phoenix were oustscored 16-5 over the remainder of the half and took a 42-40 lead into the break.
Burks accounted for the final seven points of the half, scoring twice from close range and making a 3 in between.
“We knew he was going to go right and go to the rim, but we didn’t do a very good job of stopping him,” Green Bay coach Linc Darner said.
Burks made a pair of free throws with 16:46 remaining to give the Herd a 49-48 lead, and two free throws from Kinsey soon after upped the advantage to three.
However, Green Bay answered with a 10-0 run courtesy of five points apiece from JayQuan McCloud and ShanQuan Hemphill to lead 58-51 with 13:40 left.
From that point on, it was all Marshall.
The Herd went on top for good on Kinsey’s tip-in that made it 60-59 with 11:47 remaining, and the lead was 66-62 after Rondale Watson’s jumper at the 10-minute mark.
Burks accounted for a 6-0 run soon after, scoring twice off steals to stretch the Marshall lead to 10 with 8:38 to play.
That brought the crowd of 5,748 to its feet and the Herd fed off the energy.
“Our crowd was a big part of the win,” Burks said.
Green Bay never got closer than seven the rest of the way. The Herd held the Phoenix without a field goal for the final 5:13 to double what was a 79-69 advantage following Hemphill’s layup.
“We left Green Bay at noon (Wednesday) and it was 12:30 (a.m.) by the time we got here. Our legs might have went,” Darner said. “When you don’t have much time to prepare, they’re a very hard time to figure out how to guard.”
Kinsey was a big reason Marshall out-rebounded Green Bay, 52-44, as seven of his 11 boards came on the offensive end.
“(Assistant coach Cornelius Jackson) told me they don’t box out and that I could get every rebound,” Kinsey said. “They tried, but it really didn’t work.”
Marshall guard Jon Elmore, the school’s and Conference USA’s all-time leading scorer, scored 17 points but was held to 5-of-18 shooting in his final collegiate contest.
Rondale Watson added eight points and eight boards off the bench in his final game at Marshall.
Burks also had seven rebound and six assists while making 12-of-21 field-goal attempts.
“He was something. He’s just strong,” D’Antoni said. “It’s amazing how he finishes so softly when he goes in there. He’s got really great touch at the end of his finishes.”
Hemphill led Green Bay with 21 points and 13 reboiunds.
Cohen, who entered averaging 17.6 points, was held to 13 and didn’t score over the final 26:10.
Josh McNair finished with nine points and seven boards in defeat, but was limited to 14 minutes of action because of foul trouble.
“He picked up a silly third foul when he didn’t need to go gamble for the ball,” Darner said. “Him getting his third foul before halftime was a big blow to us.”
Marshall made only 3-of-26 3s and missed all eight of its attempts in the second half.
The Herd won 10 of its last 11 games.
“I think it speaks to the resiliency of this team,” Elmore said. “We took our lumps throughout the year, but not once did anybody pout.”