West Virginians stand tall for Herd hoops
HUNTINGTON — Dan D’Antoni’s belief in home grown talent is paying off.
The Mullens, W.Va ., native recruits in the hills and hollows of his home state as the Marshall University men’s basketball head coach and that’s why eight of the Thundering Herd’s 15 active players are West Virginians.
Mountain State players were in the spotlight Saturday night when Marshall (11-4, 2-0 Conference USA) scored a 78-65 victory against Louisiana Tech (9-6, 0-2) in Cam Henderson Center. Seventy-three of the 78 points came from state natives and the backcourt foursome of Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks, Jarrod West and Rondale Watson also accounted for 139 of the 200 total minutes played.
At various times the Herd had four West Virginia guards in the game together.
“These guys defend their home turf,” D’Antoni said. “They come from little hollows like I did, except Jon (Elmore). He’s a city boy (from Charleston).”
Actually, Burks and West are from Martinsburg and Clarksburg respectively, which are not little hollows and D’Antoni quipped “That goes to show you i flunked West Virginia history.”
Elmore is a 6-foot-3 junior point guard who had Herd high games of 32 points, 11 free throws in 12 attempts, nine rebounds and five assists Saturday. Elmore is chasing Middle Tennessee forward Nick King for the C-USA scoring lead and trailing, 23.8 to 23.5. He is ranked ninth nationally in scoring and seventh in assists with 7.5 per game while leading the NCAA free throw shooting statistics at 120-for-146.
Burks bounced back after being hospitalized and missing Thursday’s win against Southern Miss because of flu-like symptoms and the 6-4 junior guard fired in 23 points. His season average climbed to 20.1, which is third in C-USA.
West went 4-for-7 shooting 3-pointers for 12 points and the 5-11 freshman guard from Clarksburg also performed well defensively against LA Tech’s Daquan Bracey, who committed six turnovers. Bracey was last season’s conference freshman of the year award winner.
“I knew as soon as we had LA Tech on our schedule that was going to be my matchup,” West said. “I took it as a challenge. I was excited to play against him. He’s a really good player.”
Ajdin Penava, a 6-9 junior forward from Bosnia, was in a hospital Thursday night with the same symptoms Burks had. D’Antoni said he pushed Penava into playing for 21 minutes because Bracey is good at getting to the basket and Marshall needed the nation’s leading shot blocker at the back of its defense.
Penava did reject three shots, maintaining NCAA leads for total blocks (71) and blocks per game (4.73). He didn’t score (17.7 average) and had only two rebounds (9.7 average).
Watson, a Lewisburg native, transferred home from Wake Forest University and became eligible at semester break. The 6-4 junior guard averaged 14.0 points in his first three games, including 20 against Southern Miss. On Saturday he provided six points and four rebounds.
D’Antoni said the West Virginians play with a little chip on their shoulders because outsiders didn’t think they could perform at a high level.
“They want to show people they can play with anybody,” D’Antoni said.
Marshall’s other players from West Virginia are Elmore’s brother Ot, a 6-2 senior guard from Charleston; 6-6 sophomore forward Phil Bledsoe of Wheeling; 5-9 senior guard Marcus Reed from Charleston; and 6-6 freshman forward Will Fenton from Fayetteville.
Transfers Deaundra Murphy of Huntington and Levi Cook from Arnett, W.Va., are sitting out this year. Mingo Central High School senior Jeremy Dillon is a Herd recruit.
WESTERN KENTUCKY (10-5, 2-0) AT MARSHALL (11-4, 2-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Cam Henderson Center
RADIO: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM, WMUL 88.1-FM