A late rally was not enough for Marshall to overcome the first-place Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Saturday night and the Herd fell 97-86 in front of a season-best 7,620 fans at the Cam Henderson Center.
Marshall (15-12, 8-6) fell behind by 21 points at halftime and despite a valiant effort to make a game of it, MTSU (24-4, 14-1) was too much and the Blue Raiders clinched their fourth straight win.
The Herd began the game up 3-0 after guard Stevie Browning converted an old-fashioned 3-point play, but Marshall’s only lead of the game lasted just 26 seconds and MTSU began to take control.
The Blue Raiders held a 13-8 lead with 15:32 remaining in the first half, but they would soon start to pull away from the Herd. MTSU followed with a 9-0 scoring run to extend its lead to 22-8 with 13:23 remaining in the first half.
Marshall ended that run, but just to fall victim to another run by the Blue Raiders and after an 8-0 scoring run, MTSU held a dominant 33-11 lead at the 7:52 mark of the first half.
The Blue Raiders continued to control the game and their lead stood at 41-19 with 2:32 remaining in the first half. Marshall guard C.J. Burks connected on the Herd’s first 3-pointer of the first half with 38 seconds to go until halftime, but MTSU still went into halftime up 47-26.
The Herd’s offense began to be more productive in the second half and after point guard Jon Elmore connected on a layup, the Blue Raiders’ lead was down to 56-37 with 15:02 remaining in the second half.
But MTSU still maintained a comfortable advantage and the lead stood at 77-56 at the 7:21 mark of the second half. The Blue Raiders held a 19-point lead with 3:30 to go, but the Herd would not go down without a fight.
Marshall went on a 14-4 scoring run and after Burks connected on a layup, the MTSU lead was down to single digits at 86-77 with just 56 seconds remaining in the game.
But there was just too much ground for the Herd to make up in a short amount of time and the Blue Raiders held off the late rally to walk away with a 97-86 win.
Burks led Marshall off the bench with a career-high 27 points on 11 out of 15 shooting from the field. Forward Ryan Taylor finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to rack up his 36th career double-double.
Elmore added 18 points, five assists and four rebounds as well for the Herd while Browning chipped in eight points and two rebounds. Forward JaCorey Williams led the Blue Raiders with 25 points and eight rebounds.
The Herd finished the game shooting 45.3 percent from the field, but just 29.2 percent from behind the arc. Marshall connected on only seven out of 24 attempts from 3-point territory including just one made 3-pointer in the first half.
MTSU finished the game shooting 52.3 percent from the field and completed the season sweep of Marshall. The Herd scored 60 points in the second half, but a slow first half was just too much to overcome against the first-place Blue Raiders.
Marshall will look to rebound Thursday night at Old Dominion looking for the season sweep of the Monarchs. MTSU returns to action Feb. 26 on the road at UAB.