It took two clutch free throws from junior Marshall guard Jon Elmore to seal a 64-63 win over the third-seeded Old Dominion Monarchs. Without those points from the charity stripe, Conference USA would have had an all chalk semi-final consisting of the top four seeds.
Marshall will face the 2 seed Louisiana Tech, who easily handled the host UAB Thursday night, in an afternoon CBS Sports televised game tipping at 2:00 PM CT in Birmingham. Before their game, the third-seeded UTEP Miners will face the top-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at 11:30 AM CT, which will also be on CBS Sports.
Let’s take a look at today’s two games.
UTEP (4) vs Middle Tennessee (1)
On Wednesday afternoon, the Miners continued their roll in 2017 by disposing of a very talented and hot Rice Owls team, 86-76. UTEP led by 20 at the half and maintained a double digit lead for nearly every second of the final twenty minutes despite their two 7-footers struggling with foul trouble. Senior guard Dominic Artis flirted with a triple-double by scoring 26 points with 10 rebounds and six assists.
Middle Tennessee’s lone loss this season in Conference USA play was at UTEP in February when the Miners held the efficient Blue Raider offense to just 54 points. The battle in paint between JaCorey Williams and the Miner front line will be one to watch for, but the real catalyst in this game will be who gets the better of the guard battle. I’d lean more to UTEP’s Dominic Artis and Omega Harris, but don’t sleep on the hot shooting Giddy Potts and freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon. If this game is a drag out slug-fest, it’ll favor the Miners who I think will steal this game away from Middle Tennessee.
Marshall (6) vs Louisiana Tech (2)
If any team can shoot their way in to the NCAA tournament in this final group of four teams, it’s the Thundering Herd. It won’t matter how Louisiana Tech or UTEP/MTSU will counter with their big, strong front lines if Dan D’Antoni’s team continues to impose their frantic paced style of play and hit their perimeter shots. Marshall put up 89 points against Florida Atlantic the first day of the tournament behind 12 three pointers, and then adjusted their game plan to compensate for Old Dominion’s desire to slow things down. The Herd bullied their way to the rim which resulted in 20 free throw attempts compared to only six for the Monarchs.
Looking back to Marshall and Louisiana Tech’s lone game this season, you’ll see both teams got everything they wanted on the offensive end in a 94-90 Bulldog win in Louisiana. The Herd hit 13 three pointers, but could not keep Louisiana Tech off the line as they converted 20 of their 27 freebies. I’d expect another high-scoring shoot out today, but I this time I think it’ll be Marshall who shoots their shot all the way to the final. The key will be how Dan D’Antoni schemes for the dominate senior forward Erik McCree, who had 30 points when these two teams played. If Jon Elmore and Co. can get the big man in foul trouble, the Herd will roll.