SAN DIEGO — Jon Elmore received the star treatment from Press Virginia, and at times it made Marshall’s star point guard vanish.
Reviving the defensive game plan it used versus Oklahoma’s Trae Young in the regular season, West Virginia emphasized denying the ball to Elmore. For long stretches that left the playmaking to his teammates, who couldn’t summon up enough of a counterpunch to keep the Herd competitive in a 94-71 loss.
Held to three points in the first half, Elmore finished with 15 — finally getting loose for open shots only after West Virginia built a 20-point lead.
“Watching film we were wondering: How hard is he going to work to get the ball?” Mountaineers assistant Larry Harrison said. “We’ve played Trae Young and other good guys who were a lot more athletic, and even they struggled to get the ball back.”
Figuring Elmore couldn’t pass what he couldn’t touch, WVU’s scheme worked. One of the nation’s assists leaders at 6.9 per game, Elmore didn’t record one until 18:35 of the second half.
“Like Trae Young, he’s gonna score, so you want to take away his assists,” said West Virginia assistant Ron Everhart. “Because everything they do offensively revolves around him with the dribble penetration, kicking the ball out and making plays.”
Unable to will Marshall to a second straight upset, Elmore closed the game shooting 4-of-12 overall and 3-of-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Among his career-worst eight turnovers, six were clustered into a 6-minute span when the Mountaineers asserted themselves with a 19-0 surge.
The face of that West Virginia defensive effort, point guard Jevon Carter, credited two days of studying film — along with the Synergy software that compiles player data — for scouting Elmore’s tendencies.
“I ain’t doing nothing here in San Diego, just in the hotel relaxing, so why not watch film? That stuff can really help you,” Carter said.
After some WVU fans on social media mocked Elmore’s pregame assertions that he was under-recruited, Everhart complimented the junior.
“I saw where he said he’s a high-major player, and I agree, he is a high-major player,” Everhart said. “He’s a helluva guard, he’s a helluva shooter. He’s one of those guys that can change the game.”
More to come from Marshall?
At the end of an encouraging season, the Herd (25-10) finally owns an NCAA tournament victory, and no Marshall team in the past 70 years won more games. The climb has been steady, with Elmore and fellow juniors C.J. Burks and Ajdin Penava helping post three consecutive winning records in C-USA.
“We have kind of turned Marshall basketball around and we’re heading in the right direction, but we’re not satisfied yet,” Elmore said. “As you have seen, Conference USA has come to the NCAA tournament the last four years and won games. So we play in a tough conference, but we think we are right there at the top of the net. So we’re going to keep rolling and hopefully keep improving.
“We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board — you gotta get bigger, faster, stronger. That’s what our guys are going to do.”
“Early on, they were in a man press, and I think it left gaps that we were able to take advantage of. We were able to spread them out, attack and kick. But then they went to a 2-1-1 zone press that I thijnk slowed us down. We couldn’t play as fast.” — Marshall’s Jarrod West