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CUSA Championship Preview: Marshall, Western Kentucky meet with big stakes on the line

WKU and Marshall will continue their rivalry with a shot at the Big Dance on the line

NCAA Basketball: Conference USA Tournament-Marshall vs Southern Mississippi Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Conference USA championship game is set. The No. 4 seed Marshall Thundering Herd will face off against rival, and third-seeded, Western Kentucky.

Semifinals Recap

#4 Marshall 85- #9 Southern Miss 75

Marshall advanced to the championship today after defeating CUSA Cinderella Southern Miss, who defeated No. 1 seed MTSU on Thursday. Jannson Williams and Jon Elmore pushed the Thundering Herd ahead as Marshall went on a 28-8 run near the end of the first half. Elmore nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the opening half giving Marshall a 20-point, 47-27 lead.

Halfway through the second half, Southern Miss started a 22-5 run to cut the lead to six with 3:02 remaining. Cortez Edwards kept the Golden Eagles in the game scoring 23 of his 30 points in the second half. The Thundering Herd made their free throws to close out the game and landed themselves in their second straight CUSA Tournament championship game. Five players for Marshall finished in double figures, led by Elmore who had 26 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Southern Miss finishes the 2017-18 season with a 16-18 record.

WKU 57- Old Dominion 49

If you looked at the scores and didn’t see the names, you would assume Old Dominion won this game based on its style of play. WKU senior Justin Johnson had other plans as the Hilltoppers were able to shut down the Monarchs and head to their first CUSA title game.

Old Dominion led for most of the first 13 minutes of the game before Johnson and Darius Thompson got the Hilltoppers going. The Monarchs hung with WKU all game, but the Monarchs only had the lead for 42 seconds in the second half. Brandon Stith hit a layup to cut the WKU lead to three with 3:36 remaining, but ODU couldn’t hit shots and had to resort to fouling. Trey Porter and Ahmad Caver were the only players to score in double figures for the Monarchs. Porter led the way with 19 points before fouling out on a technical foul with under a minute remaining.

Justin Johnson dominated for the Hilltoppers in the win, scoring 19 points and corralling 13 rebounds. Old Dominion is currently 25-7 and have a shot at the NIT, barring multiple major bubble teams not making the NCAA tournament.

Championship Preview

Since joining CUSA, Western Kentucky is 4-5 against the Thundering Herd. WKU has won both contests this year, both in January. In the first matchup, Thompson and Johnson combined for 60 points destroying the Thundering Herd by a final of 112-87. In the second game, WKU ended the night on a 15-0 run and came away with a 85-74 win at home.

This game has all the star power you could ask for in a mid-major game. The championship won’t have Giddy Potts and Nick King of MTSU, but the impact players for these teams can bust anyone’s brackets in the NCAA tournament. Will Jon Elmore, Ajdin Penava, and C.J. Burks lead Marshall to their first conference tournament win since 1987? Or will Justin Johnson, Taveion Hollingsworth, Darius Thompson, and Lamonte Bearden bring WKU home their first trophy since the 2013 Sun Belt title? The “Moonshine Throwdown” rivalry is going to another level in Frisco, Texas on Saturday with a shot at the Big danceD.

Western Kentucky opened as a six-point favorite for the title game against the Thundering Herd. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday and will be shown on CBS Sports Network.