— By David Walsh
SAN ANTONIO — A potential blowout turned into a nailbiter for the Marshall University men’s basketball team.
A one-time second-half lead of 19 points got cut to three and UTSA in possession of the ball with 10 seconds left. The Thundering Herd then got a turnover when Jarrod West drew a foul with 8 seconds left. After walking the length of the floor, West sank two free throws to secure the win for Marshall, 82-77, in Conference USA play Saturday afternoon inside the UTSA Convocation Center.
Attendance on Senior Day was 2,650.
Marshall, back over .500 for the first time since the start of the season, is 16-15 and finishes 10-8 in C-USA. The Herd will be the sixth seed for the C-USA Basketball Championships starting Wednesday at the Ford Center in Frisco. Marshall will play No. 11 seed UTEP in the first round Wednesday at 10 p.m.
UTSA finished 11-15, 7-11 in C-USA.
“I knew how big the free throws were,” West said on the Herd’s radio post-game show. “Relax, make two free throws and the chance of winning goes up.”
Mikel Beyers, who came off the bench to lead the Herd with 20 points, hit a three-pointers with 11:46 left to put the visitors ahead, 64-45. Taevion Kinsey followed with a layup with 10:22 to go to keep the cushion at 19 with 10:26 to go. Marshall had just 63 total points in a 72-63 loss here on Feb. 13.
At this point, the Roadrunners, who had just three points in the first nine minutes of the second half, started to come back. Jhivvan Jackson nailed a three-pointer with 10 seconds left to get the Roadrunners within three at 80-77. On the inbounds pass, the ball bounced off West to give UTSA the ball and chance to tie. However, Jackson fouled with on the inbounds try to set up West for the clinching free throws.
“We made it real exciting for them,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said on the post-game show. “They’ve got such explosive scorers. You can’t make mistakes. I hope we made season-ending mistakes. We had a slew of them. We let them come back. A lot different from the last time.”
In that Feb. 13 meeting, Marshall made just 1-of-21 shots from the field to start the second half. This time the Herd raced to a 52-40 lead at the break. Marshall made 18-of-36 shots, including seven three-pointers. Lukewarm shooting in the second half, turnovers and some foul trouble allowed UTSA to mount the rally.
“All of the mistakes,” D’Antoni said. “They were scoring off mistakes. If they’re scoring because they’re better than you, it’s a tougher assisgment. We want to leave them (mistakes) here, not bring them to Frisco with us.”
Marshall again showed a balanced attack. Beyers led the way with 20 followed by West with 15, Andy Taylor with 12 and Kinsey and Jannson Williams with 10 each.
Jackson led UTSA with 37 points and a team-high 11 rebounds before he fouled out. Keaton Wallace had 13 and hit just 4-of-18 shots. All four baskets were threes. Jackson and Wallace entered the game with a combined scoring average of 45.5. Jacob German netted 10.
“It’s not like you’re going to go out and shut them down,” D’Antoni said. “He had to shoot 28 shots, that’s a little too much.”
The Herd took the bus over to Frisco after the game.
“Everybody’s 0-0,” D’Antoni said. “We have to go give a good account of ourselves. I like this team. They make mistakes, but I know they’re giving it their best shot. I can live with that.
On Friday, West got named to the C-USA All-Conference Team. Now it’s tournament time and West knows it. The Herd won the title two seasons ago.
“Rest and get focused,” West said. “Try to make a run down there. UTEP plays hard. It’s not going to be an easy game just because they’re 11th seed.”
In the regular season, the Herd beat the Miners, 71-61, at UTEP’s Haskins Center.
UTSA leads the overall series 5-4, including a 4-2 mark now in San Antonio.