HUNTINGTON, W.Va.--All Florida International head coach Anthony Evans could do was rub his head and smile in disbelief during Saturday night's game with Marshall at the Cam Henderson Center.
Four Herd players finished in double-figures, including career performances by James Kelly and Jon Elmore, as Marshall romped FIU 99-81 in front of 5,127 fans.
Kelly led the way with 33 points while tying his career-high of 15 rebounds. Elmore added a career-high 25 points and five assists in the win. It was Kelly's Conference USA leading eighth double-double (third consecutive) and second consecutive game with 15 boards. Taylor finished with 15 points while tying a career-high eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds. Browning netted 10 points and four rebounds for the Herd.
"After sitting out a year, it was good to get back in my groove," Kelly said. "Now it's fun, because we're clicking, the ball is moving, and we're getting easy buckets."
Marshall shot 53.4 percent from the field (31-of-58) and 41.9 percent (13-of-31) from long-range against the league's top-ranked perimeter defense. FIU entered the contest holding opponents to only 29.5 percent from behind the arc, but allowed its highest mark of the season in the loss.
After staring the season 0-6, Marshall has won seven of its last 10, including beginning CUSA play with three consecutive wins for the first time since January 2012.
"It's just time," Marshall head coach Dan D'Antoni said. "I told everyone that if you came to our practices, you could see it. It's there; we just weren't getting it done on the floor. When you play and the ball moves as fast as it moves, everything's got to be together. It takes a while to get that. You have to be committed as a coach, to work through that. Some coaches get nervous, because they're making the decisions and you aren't."
FIU opened the scoring on a Donte McGill jumper for a 2-0 lead, but the Panthers held the edge for only 12 seconds after Austin Loop nailed a 3-pointer to put the Herd on top for good.
Marshall's first three baskets all came from long-range, with Kelly dumping in back-to-back triples for a 9-4 Herd advantage.
Uncharacteristic for the Herd after its performance over the past few contests, it took over five minutes for Kelly to record his first dunk, but the fans were well rewarded for the wait. Bookended Kelly's jams sparked a 15-4 Herd run, ballooning the Marshall lead to 16 points, 26-10 with 10:29 before the break.
Stevie Browning stretched the lead to 17 after sinking a triple, but the Panthers trimmed the deficit to only nine with 2:52 left on an Elmo Stephen 3-pointer. A pair of Daviyon Draper free throws trimmed the Herd lead to eight with 33 seconds to go in the half, but Elmore drew a foul with .1 seconds remaining on the first-half clock and pushed the lead to 43-34 at the break.
The VMI transfer used the spark to end the half and exploded out of the locker room, draining three consecutive 3-pointer, pushing the lead back to 16 at 54-38. Elmore finished with a career-high six 3-pointers.
"It was good to get going right out of the half," Elmore said. "(FIU) closed the lead toward the end of the first half, so getting that lead and keeping it was big for us."
Limited by foul trouble in the first half, Adrian Diaz pulled the Panthers back to within 10, but a pair of Ryan Taylor free throws made it 64-46 with 12:54 to go.
McGill got FIU back to within 13, but another Kelly dunk followed by an Elmore three made it 82-63. FIU closed to within 10 one final time on a 6-0 run by Draper and McGill only to have a another Kelly dunk suck the life out of the comeback effort.
Of the 11 dunks by both teams in the contest, Kelly was responsible for seven.
Draper led the Panthers with a career-high 25 points, McGill added 20, Diaz had 16, but the nation's leading shot blocker was held without a block for the first time all season.
"It feels good that we started out 3-0," Taylor said, "but conference is won on the road. It's easy to play in front of our home crowd, but you have to go on the road and win tough games, which we know is not easy. I feel confident that we'll be able to continue our good play on the road."
Marshall scored 90 or more points in three consecutive conference wins for the first time since winning three Southern Conference games in January 1995 under Billy Donovan.
Marshall travels to North Texas and Rice this week for its first conference road trip with games Thursday and Saturday respectively.