No C-USA game is easy anymore
HUNTINGTON — With a little bit of luck Florida Atlantic University would have held the lead against the Marshall Thundering Herd well into the second half of a Saturday night men’s basketball game in Cam Henderson Center.
Devorious Brown of the Owls was fouled attempting a 3-point shot with 12:18 left in the game, but he made just one of three freebies from the foul line. Then, Gerdarius Troutman cashed Marshall guard Rondale Watson’s turnover by hitting a 3-pointer that tied the game 55-55 with 11:57 remaining.
Watson drove from the right for a layup that put Marshall back on top, and completed a three-point play at the foul line for a 58-55 cushion with 10:41 to go. Marshall stretched it out after that with the advantage reaching 12 points with 4:15 left in a 79-68 victory.
FAU has a 10-15 season record and is 11th in Conference USA at 4-9, but made the Herd play to the end. Tenth-place FIU did the same thing Thursday when Marshall beat the Panthers, 76-66.
“Our bottom end of Conference USA has really taken a step up,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “We used to have maybe five, six, seven teams that if we came out and had the energy we felt real good. But now, you have to play all these teams out.
“I give it to (FAU head coach) Mike Curry and their program (and) to FIU and their program.”
With Marshall (17-8) winning and first-place Middle Tennessee (12-1) beating North Texas, 79-73, the Herd is alone in fourth place with an 8-4 league record, two games out of a second-place tie between Old Dominion and Western Kentucky at 10-2. North Texas (14-11, 7-5 C-USA) slipped to fifth place.
Marshall returns to the Lone Star state for the second time in two weeks to play an 8 p.m. Thursday game with Rice (5-20, 2-10 C-USA) in Houston and a 6 p.m. Saturday matchup with North Texas in Denton, Texas.
Taking care of business at home is one thing, but Marshall probably needs to win a few more on the road to finish in the top four of the standings and secure a first-round bye in the C-USA tournament.
“You want to win all the games, but especially at home,” Marshall guard Jon Elmore said Saturday. “In your home environment. Sleeping in your bed at night. Coming in here and practicing every day. We’ve got our great fans. They feed what we want to do. It’s a great environment for us, but we know we’ve got a big road trip coming up.
“Two Texas teams. That’s never an easy trip going down there. I think they are playing pretty good basketball right now too. It was a great win, but we’re looking forward to next week. We’ve got to take care of business and it’s kind of on us from here on out for the rest of the year how we finish. Hopefully, we can finish the right way.”
FAU’s head coach explained what went wrong after the Owls pulled even at 55-55.
“They got a couple of backdoor cuts,” Michael Curry said. “They got (C.J.) Burks on a backdoor cut. I think (Jon) Elmore drove baseline on the left side and hit another guy cutting for an and-one. They had two and-one situations where we fouled them in the paint and they made those. And, during that stretch I think we missed two wide-open threes and two layups.
“Missed layups a lot of times is a basket or a three on the other end, especially against this team.”
Elmore, a 6-foot-3 junior who plays the point guard position, tossed in 22 points and delivered four assists Saturday to keep the conference lead in both categories with 22.0 and 7.0 averages respectively. He also snagged seven rebounds in a full game 40-minute performance.
Watson, a 6-4 junior, played for 29 minutes from off the bench and contributed to the win with 18 points and nine rebounds. Six-foot-10 junior forward Ajdin Penava had 16 points and 15 rebounds for his 11th double-double game this season. The nation’s leading shot blocker with 106 and a 4.61 game average swatted away three of FAU’s attempts. Burks (6-4 junior guard) added 12 points and had five assists.
FAU, which played with the lead for only 1:31 of the 40 minutes, had 21 points and 11 rebounds from 7-foot senior Ronald Delph, 14 rebounds from 6-10 senior William Pfister and 12 points from 6-4 senior guard Justin Massey.
The Owls won their Jan. 27 game at Rice on Massey’s 3-point shot in the final second.
Marshall (17-8, 8-4) at Rice (2-10, 5-20)
8 p.m. Thursday
Tudor Fieldhouse (5,208)
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM