— By David Walsh
(NOTE: The Conference USA Tournament ended due to the coronavirus outbreak, preventing Marshall from facing Louisiana Tech in a quarterfinal. The Herd (17-15, 10-8 C-USA) won three straight and five of six to close the season.)
FRISCO, Texas — Marshall University picked up the pace in the first half Wednesday night and held off UTEP down the stretch to win, 86-78, in the first round of the Air Force Reserve Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship at The Star.
Taevion Kinsey fired home 21 first-half points to spark Marshall to a 43-32 lead at the break.
The Thundering Herd, known for distance shooting, had just one three in the first half. However, Marshall took advantage of pick-and-rolls and alley-oops for easy baskets inside to lead.
Herd guard Jarrod West hit a 3-pointer with 18:34 left to give Marshall its biggest lead at 48-34. At that point, UTEP mounted several comeback runs, but the Herd held on. Bryson Williams hit two jumpers late to cut the deficit to 81-78 with 53 seconds left. The Herd (17-15) got the final five points and held UTEP (17-15) scoreless late to get the win.
Marshall’s Mikel Beyers had only two field goals, but made 10-of-10 free throws for 14 points.
“Not very often you see someone go 2-of-4 from the field and end up with 14 points,” Beyers said on the postgame radio show. “Got guys talking. Tune out the noise and focus on what you do.”
“Big win,” Beyers added. “Lot of momentum going into tomorrow. No fans, we’ll feed off our own energy.”
Herd assistant Mark Cline, filling in for coach Dan D’Antoni on the radio show, said the team performed down the stretch.
“Total team effort,” he said. “We made free throws down the stretch, didn’t turn the ball over and got stops at the end.”
Marshall, the No. 6 seed, meets No. 3 Louisiana Tech in the quarterfinals Thursday at 10 p.m. The Herd beat the Bulldogs, 83-79, in overtime back on Feb. 8.
The seats will be empty tonight as C-USA officials said no fans would be inside the arena the rest of the event due to the coronavirus. Only players, coaches, essential team personnel, players families and credentialed media will be admitted.
Kinsey led Marshall with 26 points. Andy Taylor added 15 points, five assists, five rebounds and had just one turnover. West totaled 10 points.
“He played a complete game,” Cline said of Taylor, a transfer from Furman.
Kinsey connected on 9-of-14 attempts from the field and all three free throws for the big first half. The Herd enjoyed a 28-6 advantage in points in the paint and 16-2 margin on fastbreak points the first 20 minutes.
Marshall finished 24-of-29 at the foul line and had a season-low six turnovers. The Herd came in last in C-USA in foul shooting.
Bryson Williams led UTEP with 25 points, Jordan Lathon added 22 and Souley Boom 13. The Miners’ four-game win streak came to an end.
UTEP is now 11-8 all-time against Marshall, which beat the Miners twice this season.