Blue Raiders Hold Off Herd to Secure C-USA Tournament Championship

Photo by Dave West

 

By Trace Johnson

The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee put the finishing touches on one of the best seasons in C-USA history Saturday night at Legacy Arena by holding off the Marshall Thundering Herd and pulled away late with an 83-72 win in front of an announced attendance of 3,956 fans in Birmingham.

MTSU (30-4) stifled the high-flying Herd for the majority of the first half, but Marshall (20-15) came roaring back in the second half to make it a game before the Blue Raiders prevailed and closed out their second straight C-USA Tournament Championship.

The Blue Raiders announced their presence early by holding Marshall scoreless over the first several minutes of the game and held a 7-0 lead with 16:30 remaining in the first half.

The Herd’s offense continued to struggle, but forward Ajdin Penava connected on a layup at the 10:50 mark of the first half to cut the MTSU lead down to 15-6.

Marshall connected on its first made 3-pointer of the first half when guard Austin Loop nailed one from behind the arc to cut the Blue Raiders’ lead down to 28-18 with 4:24 to go in the first half.

The Herd closed the gap to under 10 points at halftime and finished the half on a slight run and MTSU held a 40-32 lead at halftime.  Marshall’s offense began to start clicking as the second half got underway and the Herd fought its way back in the game.

Loop connected on another 3-pointer at the 16:07 mark of the second half that cut the MTSU lead down to just three at 46-43.  The Herd trailed by just two points at 53-51 with 12:50 to go in the second half after point guard Jon Elmore converted on a pair of free throws.

Marshall had a couple of chances to tie the game at 53 over the next minute plus, but was unable to and the Blue Raiders began to create separation once again.

MTSU went on a 15-5 scoring run over the next several minutes that was capped off with Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni receiving a technical foul after arguing a questionable call.

Following that run, the Blue Raiders extended their lead to 68-56 with 5:12 remaining in the second half.  The Herd continued to fight and cut the MTSU lead down to 76-69 with just 1:19 to go, but it ultimately did not have enough time left to get back in the game.

The Blue Raiders closed things out to win a hard-fought battle over Marshall 83-72 for their second straight C-USA Tournament Championship and now awaits their opponent and seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Guard C.J. Burks led Marshall with 16 points and two rebounds off the bench.  Guard Stevie Browning finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists as well for the Herd.

Elmore added 12 points, four rebounds and four assists while Loop chipped in 12 points and three assists on 4-for-9 shooting from behind the arc.

Penava produced off the bench for Marshall with 10 points and three rebounds before fouling out and forward Ryan Taylor added six points and six rebounds.  Guard Giddy Potts led MTSU with 30 points and eight rebounds to win the C-USA Tournament Championship Most Valuable Player award.

Marshall connected on 40 percent of its 3-point field goal attempts in the second half, but ultimately could not overcome the slow start in the first half in which it connected on just 16.7 percent of its 3-point attempts.

The Herd’s impressive run of four games in four days as the 6th seed with wins over the 11th, 3rd and 2nd seeded teams in the C-USA Tournament earned Elmore and Browning all-tournament honors.

Marshall, after making its second all-time appearance in the C-USA Tournament Championship game and earning its first 20-win season since the 2011-12 season, now awaits its postseason fate and if its breakthrough season will continue.