CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There was very little separation between fourth-seeded Herd That and No. 5 Founding Fathers in an opening round game of The Basketball Tournament on Sunday at the Charleston Coliseum.
The contest went to the Elam Ending tied at 69 and with a target score of 77, the outcome was hanging in the balance.
However, Marshall’s alumni-based team made the most of its possessions down the stretch, scoring each of the last three times it had the ball, including consecutive 3-pointers from Cameron Young and James Kelly that made all the difference in a 77-71 victory.
“Down the stretch when we needed to make plays at crucial moments, guys stepped up,” said Herd That guard Jon Elmore. “Hopefully going into the next game, we’re better than we were tonight.”
That next game comes at 8 p.m. Tuesday against top seed Best Virginia.
Herd That’s Justin Johnson, who starred at Western Kentucky as a collegiate player, scored in the paint on the first series out of a timeout to break the 69-all tie.
A second-chance bucket from Desmond Ringer allowed the James Madison-alumni based squad to pull even, but Founding Fathers never scored again.
It didn’t help that FF had the ball just once more as Young took a feed from Johnson and buried an uncontested triple to give HT a 74-71 lead.
Elmore then came up with the biggest defensive play of the game, stripping the Founding Fathers’ top offensive threat in Ron Curry and coming up with a pivotal steal near the baseline.
Herd That made the most of it by using a patient offensive approach that allowed Johnson to find Kelly in the corner, and the former Marshall forward swished home a triple to end the game.
“I didn’t know if Justin was going to pass it to me, but I knew if he did, I was going to shoot it,” Kelly said. “If I do get it when I’m open, I have to shoot it. Can’t think about it, especially with something like that when it’s the ending.”
Outside of the final few possessions, Herd That played its best basketball early on. Herd That built separate 11-point leads at 13-2 and 17-6, with those proving to be the largest advantage for either team.
But after Johnson’s 3 made it 17-6, Founding Fathers held Herd That without a field goal for the final 3-plus minutes of the opening quarter, and made 6-of-6 free throws over that span to pull even at 18 after one quarter.
Founding Fathers led for a good portion of the second quarter, but was held to three points over the final 4-plus minutes of the frame as Herd That battled back from a 29-27 deficit to lead 35-32 at halftime.
Curry scored 10 points in the opening half, before heating up even more in the third quarter. His 3 at the 5:54 mark of the period cut what had been a 44-38 lead for Herd That in half, and Curry hit another triple moments later that brought his team to within 46-45.
(Herd That postgame press conference)
“He was cooking,” Herd That guard Stevie Browning said of Curry. “We let him get going early, too. He got that rhythm and it felt like everything he was throwing up was going in. All these guys are pros and high level guys.”
However, Johnson and Elmore scored eight straight points to give HT a nine-point lead, before Cordaryl Ballard poured in eight points over the final 2:43 of the third to bring Founding Fathers to within 59-55 ahead of the fourth.
HT held a 64-57 advantage following Johnson’s second-chance basket, but Curry and Devon Moore combined for eight points during a 10-1 surge that gave Founding Fathers a two-point lead.
Kelly countered with consecutive baskets, before Moore answered to tie it at 69 ahead of the Elam Ending.
“One play at a time. You can’t skip any plays and you have to make the most of each one,” Elmore said of his team’s mentality down the stretch. “It’s a matter of making plays and getting stops when it counts. In an Elam Ending, the physicality picks up and it’s whoever plays hardest.”
Herd That didn’t help its cause by missing 15-of-31 free throws, though it shot better than 48 percent (26 of 54) from the field.
Johnson had a team-high 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting, while Kelly added 16 and made 6-of-9 shots. The duo was also responsible for 16 rebounds, with Kelly’s nine leading all players.
“I’m glad he’s on our team,” Elmore said of Johnson. “He’s an animal. Big, strong, physical and athletic. A couple times, he looked at us, and said, ‘get me the ball in the post.’ When a guy is that talented, give him the ball in space and let him make a play. We can go to that more in the future.”
Young scored 12 and Ryan Taylor added 11 on 4-of-4 shooting in the win. Elmore was limited to seven points on 2-of-7 shooting, while Browning also scored seven in a balanced effort.
“We have a heck of a team with a ton of talent,” Elmore said. “Guys can make plays. My job is to do whatever it takes to win and tonight it was to put guys in position to make plays — and they did that.”
Curry’s 27 points led all players as did his six triples. Moore (11), Ballard (11) and Andre Nation (10) rounded out the Founding Fathers’ double figure scorers in defeat.