It took fortuitous seeding, thousands of miles of travel and a big-time first round upset, but Marshall and West Virginia were back on the basketball court together.
The Mountaineers ended nearly 40 years of annual meetings between the state of West Virginia’s only two Div. I programs after the 2015-16 seeding. But after both got placed in the East region, and Jon Elmore and the Thundering Herd dropped No. 4 Wichita State in the first round, the rivalry was back.
Early on, it looked like Marshall would get a slice of redemption.
The Thundering Herd stormed out of the gate, hitting three three pointers before the game was three minutes old to take a seven-point lead. This included a shooter’s roll from Jon Elmore, as the star of the Shockers upset kept the magic going right away.
Jon Elmore with the FRIENDLY roll. pic.twitter.com/ReCMZmOF60— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2018
They would then take a 16-8 lead with 13:55 left on a Darius George three. But from there, West Virginia wiped out Marshall’s momentum in what would end up a 94-71 Mountaineers’ blowout win.
West Virginia finished the first half on a 34-9 run, not allowing another made three pointer from the distance-happy Thundering Herd. In one sequence, the Mountaineers forced four turnovers in a minute and a half of game time, helping them take a lead they would not relinquish.
On the whole, the nation’s second-best turnover defense forced a steady Thundering Herd team into 18 giveaways. Led by the Jevon Carter (28 points), the Mountaineers had one of their best offensive outings of the season.
Junior forward Ajdin Penava led the Thundering Herd in scoring (18 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), while Elmore scored 15 points on 4-for-12 shooting while being hounded by Carter, Daxter Miles and the rest of the Mountaineers perimeter defenders.
The loss must sting for Marshall fans, particularly given the bitter, one-sided way the rivalry ended between the schools.
But on a dark day, a little perspective as to what the Thundering Herd accomplished in 2017-18 might be helpful.
- First NCAA Tournament appearance since 1987 (vacated), or 1985 (unvacated).
- First conference tournament championship since 1987.
- The most wins (25) for the program since 1985-86.
- The program’s first NCAA Tournament win, which while fun on its own coming against a chic Final Four pick, also produced this great tweet from Illinois State coach Dan Muller.
- A bright future, as the bulk of Marshall’s rotation — including the junior trio of Elmore, Penava and C.J. Burks — is eligible to return.
The game itself wasn’t without some fun. Little-used senior guard Ot Elmore came in and picked up four fouls in roughly a minute (one of which was a technical), but drilled a three and handed out an assist.