Marshall eases by Georgia State to claim Sun Belt regular season championship

— By David Walsh

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Two Marshall basketball players and first-year coach Kim Caldwell needed some extra time to make it to the postgame chat with the media.

The Thundering Herd had business to take care of first on the Cam Henderson Center floor. Cut down a net, shoot off some confetti, put on new championship shirts, hold a plaque high for all to see and pose for pictures and sign autographs for appreciative fans.

Those are just some of the perks made possible by winning a championship.

Marshall had five players in double figures, four with 17 points each, and put up a lofty number for points in the paint on the way to victory over Georgia State, 97-69, Tuesday night in front of 2,554 fans on Play 4K Day to claim the regular season Sun Belt Conference crown.

Marshall is 22-6, 16-1 in the SBC with one home game left Friday against Georgia Southern. This is the sixth regular-season title in program history. The Herd tries for the double in the Sun Belt Tournament scheduled March 5-11 in Pensacola, Fla. Marshall’s last conference tournament title came in 1997 in the Southern Conference for the school’s lone appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

“A fun day,” Caldwell said. “I’m really happy they get to enjoy that moment. Confetti, cutting down a net. That championship feel. They deserve it. They earned it.”

Kim Caldwell celebrates with a piece of the net. Photo courtesy of @HerdZone

Marshall, picked to finish ninth in the Sun Belt Preseason Poll, had a 6-5 record through non-conference play. Once in the league, its only defeat came against James Madison on February 3 at home.

“Hats off to the players who did that,” Caldwell said. “They created that moment. They found a way to get it done. First year, a different coach, different style of play. They did it wonderfully. There’s been that buzz around here. Let’s get it done. They did. It’s a special day.”

Abby Beeman, Breanna Campbell, Aislynn Hayes and Meredith Maier each had 17 points for the Herd. CC Mays added 11.

The Herd did great damage on points in the paint, getting 56. Not bad for a team known for its three-point shooting and pressure defense. And this time the Herd avoided a slow start. In its last outing, Marshall fell behind ULM, 32-17, after one period in a road game, but stormed back to prevail, 99-90.

“We had a group chat,” Caldwell said. “We said we needed to do a better job for four quarters. We did a better job of reading the zone They gave us the block and we took it.”

Caldwell subs quite often, sometimes five at a time. That means fresh troops on both ends of the floor.

“Four with 17. We’re really a deep team,” Caldwell said. “Not a lot of coaches have that.”

Beeman, who also had nine assists, and Campbell said it’s simply reaping dividends from the investment.

“Our hard work pays off. This is the token for it,” Beeman, a transfer from Shepherd, said. “I’ll probably comprehend it better later.”

“It’s a great feeling, but there’s still more,” Campbell said.

Both players admitted they wanted to make the championship a reality Tuesday night.

“We knew what’s at stake,” Beeman said. “We’re competitive. I’d say the Florida game (91-88 win back in December). We’d lost a few. It was a big opportunity. We saw it all come together.”

“We had a slow start,” Campbell said. “We had to try to figure everything out. Gradually it became more doable. We can’t be satisfied. We want much more. Keep our heads down.”

Saturday’s game is Senior Day for the Herd. Caldwell said she wants no letdowns.

“It’s really hard,” she said of the next game after a big win. “I’ve been guilty of that in the past.”

This is the second time the Herd’s won 22 games in program history. Caldwell has secured the most wins by a first-year head coach in program history. The previous high was 15 by Sarah Evans-Moore in 1992-93.

Maier’s three with 7:05 left in the first period put the Herd ahead to stay at 8-6. Marshall had 10 threes for the game.

Mya Williams paced Georgia State with 17 points. Mikyla Tolivert added 12. The Panthers are 15-13, 9-8 SBC.

Both teams wore pink for the Play4Kay game to honor former North Carolina State women’s coach Kay Yow who died of cancer. The game honors and remembers those who have been affected by cancer.

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