MU gave No. 9 Xavier a game

December 21, 2017

CINCINNATI — For the Marshall Thundering Herd to be the best team on the court, its head coach thinks it first has to start believing it is.

Marshall locked up with a Top 10 men’s basketball team Tuesday night, the ninth-ranked Xavier Musketeers, on their Cintas Center home court and fell behind big early in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,431 spectators and a Fox Sports 1 television audience and roared back to make it a game before falling, 81-77.

Xavier (1 1-1) expanded a 20-point halftime lead to 50-27 in the opening minute of the second half. Marshall (8-4) scored 10 straight to cut into the deficit with about 17 minutes left to play. The Herd continued its rally and Rondale Watson’s 3-point field goal cut the gap to single digits, 62-53, with 8:05 remaining.

Marshall inched closer when a C.J. Burks 3-pointer reduced Xavier’s lead to 72-65 with 1:29 to go. Burks connected again for three that pulled the Herd within 79-74, but only 21 seconds were left.

It was a tremendous second half turnaround by Marshall, but not enough.

“We’ve got to develop an attitude that we’re good,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said in a post-game radio interview. “We came out here and we were on skates. They were nervous and were doing things you can’t coach. I didn’t even know what they were doing.

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“We got in there at halftime, settled down and started being the club that we can be.”

A tale of two halves was told in the shooting.

Xavier, the nation’s third-best field goal accuracy team at 52.8 percent for the season, made 57.1 percent to build a 47-27 halftime advantage while Marshall was hitting only 30.3 percent. Marshall’s defense improved after halftime and Musketeers dropped off to 29.2 percent and the Herd heated up to 47.2 percent.

Marshall was 11-for-35 on 3-point attempts after going 3-for-18 in the first period. Xavier went 4-for-18 in the game.

The Herd outscored the Musketeers in the second period, 50-34.

“When we play aggressively defensively we’re very good,” D’Antoni said. “We still haven’t gotten our rhythm offensively where those shots start falling down. C.J. (Burks) started hitting them late and that’s when we came back.”

Marshall forward Ajdin Penava added 25 points and nine rebounds to his averages of 19.1 and 9.9 respectively. The 6-foot-9 junior came in leading the nation with 53 blocked shots and added two more. Burks (19.6 average) scored 18 and the 6-4 junior guard had 14 in the second half. Junior point guard Jon Elmore tossed in 16 points and dished nine assists. Elmore was averaging 24.2 points a game (third in the nation) and 7.5 assists (seventh nationally).

Watson, a 6-4 junior guard in his first Herd game after sitting out as a transfer from Wake Forest University, chipped in 10 points in 31 minutes of court time.

Xavier had four of its starters and five players total score double figures topped by 6-10 graduate forward Kerem Kanter’s 16.

Sean O’Mara (6-10 graduate forward), Tyrique Jones (6-9 sophomore forward) and 6-4 sophomore guard Quentin Goodin all tossed in 14 points. Kanter and Jones collected 13 and 11 rebounds respectively.

The Musketeers went straight at Penava early attempting to get him in foul trouble and O’Mara scored a dozen quick points. Penava sat out part of the half after picking up his second foul with 8:52 remaining.

Penava stayed in the game for all of the second half, didn’t get any more fouls, and scored 16 of his points.

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