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Jon Elmore has gone from a rec league legend to an NCAA Tournament hero

Marshall’s win against Wichita State cements Elmore as the most confident underdog of the tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Marshall vs Wichita State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO — Marshall superstar Jon Elmore introduced himself to fans nationwide with his 27-point performance in the Thundering Herd’s 81-75 upset win over Wichita State on Friday.

But this game was no oddity for the junior guard.

His family knows it, his head coach, Dan D’Antoni, knows it, and his teammates know it.

“All the other guys can tell you Jon does that on a daily basis,” teammate Rondale Watson said after the game.

Markis McDuffie, a key big for Wichita State, echoed this sentiment.

“He just keeps coming at you in different ways,” McDuffie said.

Elmore averaged 22.8 points and 6.9 assists per game in Conference USA play, good for eighth- and seventh-place respectively in the country. He’s surpassed 20 points 24 times this season and makes nearly 50 percent of his shots from the field.

Even though Elmore may be the main player responsible for Marshall’s biggest win in program history, he insists it was no fluke. He looked calm and composed throughout the game, despite his team being down for stretches in the second half. He ended up with 27 points, four rebounds and four assists against Wichita State.

After the game, when asked if he adjusted his game at all for Wichita State, he calmly said, “Not really. I’ve been playing ball for a while.”

Elmore oozes confidence. After averaging 31 points per game as a high school senior, Elmore decided to follow his brother and current teammate, Ot, to go play ball at Virginia Military Institute. The same school where their father played.

Then, his grandfather, a former player himself, was diagnosed with cancer.

Giving up his dream of playing college basketball to stay closer to home was an easy decision for Jon.

“He meant a ton to me, so if I had the chance to give back and help him for everything he’s done for me, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Elmore said. “It was great to spend the last months of his life with him.”

When his grandfather passed away, it was time for him to head back to school. Elmore buried his head in academics, establishing himself as a 3.5 GPA student. He decided to meet others at Marshall by playing recreational basketball. Through it all, he hoped to one day suit up for the green-and-white.

The day he scored 102 points in a rec league game certainly helped.

“When it rains, it pours,” Elmore said. “I don’t think anybody [on the current team] saw it but it did happen.”

Thanks to a tip from former Marshall coach Greg White to D’Antoni, Elmore was soon on the team. His next goal: making the NCAA Tournament.

Elmore has averaged double-digit scoring in each of his three years at Marshall, and each year, his field goal and three-point percentages have increased.

Now, Marshall has won five in a row, tying their longest winning streak of the season.

“We’re not done yet,” Elmore said after the team’s practice on Thursday. “We got bigger plans and hopefully we can keep rolling. People better watch out.”

Elmore prefers finding ways to run under the radar, deferring compliments to his teammates, but underneath it all, there is a fire and confidence that spreads to the rest of the team.

Next up, it’s likely a game against 5 seed West Virginia — the only other Division I team in the state. The hype and the storylines will absorb the state, and by extension Elmore’s world all the way in San Diego, over the next couple days.

But for now, Elmore can rest up and prepare for another game and another chance to do what he does best.