— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Not bad for a freshman.
Taevion Kinsey wrapped up his first year with the Marshall University men’s basketball in impressive fashion Thursday night.
The 6-foot-5 product of Eastmoor Academy in Columbus scored 21 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for his first collegiate double-double to help the Thundering Herd knock off Wisconsin-Green Bay, 90-70, in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship game. The performance came in front of 5,748 appreciative fans inside Cam Henderson Center.
Kinsey is the first to admit he had two pretty good teachers in seniors Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks. Burks paced the Thundering Herd with 28 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists. He was named tournament MVP. Elmore, the all-time leading scorer in Marshall and Conference USA history, contributed 17 points and made the all-tournament team as did Kinsey.
“All year they stopped the alley oops,” Kinsey said. “I had to shake and bake to get free. They didn’t box out and I had the opportunity to get every rebound. They tried, but it didn’t work. Those two (Elmore and Burks) are the guys I look to. Get them started and we’re off.
“I’ll take a piece of everything they taught me. The biggest is they taught me how to be a better person.”
Seven of Kinsey’s 11 boards came on the offensive end. Marshall’s work on the boards made a tremendous difference. The Herd had a 52-44 edge in rebounds, 58-34 margin in points in the paint and 24-19 edge in second-chance points. Marshall totaled 10 blocked shots with Kinsey and Jannson Williams swatting away three each.
Green Bay (21-17) led 42-40 at the break, but fatigue set in for the Phoenix in the second half as Marshall scored 50 points. Green Bay won its CIT semifinal in overtime Tuesday night. Wednesday was travel day, leaving the Horizon League school little time to draw up a game plan.
Marshall closed the game on a 26-8 run and the visitors went the final five minutes without a field goal. Green Bay made just 10-of-20 free throws after going 3-for-11 in its Tuesday win.
Marshall (23-14) secured its second post-season tournament championship under fifth-year coach Dan D’Antoni. The Herd won the Conference USA Tournament last season. The CIT championship is the school’s first national title since 1947 when Marshall won the NAIB crown in Los Angeles.
“The future’s sitting in here,” D’Antoni said, referring to Kinsey who was in the media room waiting for his coach to finish. “He’s ready to take off where Jon and C.J. left off. He plays efficient.”
When the game ended, fans came onto the floor to celebrate with the players and coaches. They watched players and coaches climb the ladder to cut down the nets and show off the CIT championship trophy while wearing championship T-shirts.
Marshall closed 2018-19 with 10 wins in its last 11 games. The loss was to Southern Miss in the quarterfinals of the C-USA Tournament. This was the Herd’s second straight 20-win season. D’Antoni improved to 74-63 overall.
“We lost our legs the middle of the year,” D’Antoni said. “When we get our legs back, people knew who we were. The last four years we got to see a high level of basketball. That’s why I came back. I remember those days. Marshall gave me a chance. This is what I want to do. The guys made it come true.”
Elmore, Burks and Rondale Watson are departing seniors along with Christian Thieneman. Kinsey, Darius George, Jarrod West, Williams and Mikel Byers are back to give the Herd a strong starting point for the next season. And figure in crowd support as Marshall finished No. 2 in C-USA in average home attendance behind champion Old Dominion.
“We have one of the best brands in the country,” said Elmore, who is from Charleston. “It’s going to keep getting better. They (fan base) don’t get the credit they deserve. To be honest, I’ll miss it.”
Phoenix coach Linc Darner found out what kind of home-court advantage the Herd enjoys. He said it rivaled the noise Green Bay encountered in losses at Creighton (17,147) and Final Four participant Michigan State (14,797).
“We hadn’t seen a crowd like this on the road since Creighton and Michigan State,” Darner said. “We didn’t stay composed.”
ShanQuan Hemphill led the Phoenix with 21 points and 13 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Guard Sandy Cohen added 13 points, all on the first half. Green Bay has everybody back next season except for Cohen. He and Hemphill also made the all-tournament team.
Cohen finished the season with a single-season school-record 666 points. He passed current Virginia coach Tony Bennett and Jeff Nordhaard (both had 653). The transfer from Marquette racked up 1,020 points for his career of just two seasons.