HUNTINGTON — It was a long 72-year wait.
Marshall University won the men’s basketball small-college NAIB championship in 1947 and returns to the championship game of a national tournament for the first time.
The Thundering Herd (22-14) edged Hampton University 80-78 in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament semifinals Tuesday night with a crowd of 4,122 spectators in Cam Henderson Center. Marshall hosts the CIT championship contest at 7 p.m. Thursday against the winner of the other Tuesday semifinal, Texas Southern at Green Bay.
“Anytime you play for a championship, try to cut down the nets and hang a banner you should be fired up,” Marshall senior guard Jon Elmore said after the Herd eliminated the Pirates (18-17). “Hopefully, the crowd comes out and it should be a good game.”
Elmore, the Conference USA all-time record holder with 2,621 points and 780 assists, fired in 28 points, including a burst of 13 during a three-minute stretch of the first half that lifted Marshall to a 51-38 lead at the break. Elmore also had five assists and nine rebounds.
Senior guard C.J. Burks, fifth on the Marshall career list with 1,999 points, followed with 17 and made clutch free throws at the end. Sophomore forward Jannson Williams added 12 points while collecting nine rebounds and blocking three shots. Taevion Kinsey and Mikel Beyers provided bench support with seven and five points respectively.
Hampton’s Trevond Barnes, a 6-foot-9 senior, scored 18, senior guard Kalin Fisher scored 16, junior guard Jermaine Marrow had 15 and junior forward Greg Heckstall netted 14 to go with 15 rebounds.
Marrow didn’t reach his average of 24.7 points per game.
“Jarrod [West] did a great job just dogging him the whole game, but we switch a lot [defensively] and it takes a team,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “I thought the best stat was 37 percent shooting [for Hampton] and that’s a team stat. We out-rebounded them, that’s an eye opener.”
Marshall connected on 11 of 20 attempts from the 3-point line in the first half, but cooled to 2 for 12 after halftime when Hampton (18-17) made a run.
Pirates head coach Edward Joyner said it was a tale of two halves.
“I think they controlled the first half and a big part of that was the 3-point ball,” he said. “The second half we controlled the 3-point ball and got them back on their heels.”
The Pirates crowded Elmore after he sank 6 of 9 3-point shots in the first period, trying to stay close to him, Joyner said. The Herd’s leading scorer averaging 20.1 a game scored 23 in the first half.
Ben Stanley’s free throws lifted the Pirates to a 65-64 lead with 7:39 left in the game and they were ahead 74-73 after Jermaine Marrow’s drive and dish to Trevond Barnes for a dunk with 2:07 remaining.
Herd forward Iran Bennett tied the game with a free throw and Burks finished at the rim for a basket and a 76-74 home team edge with 1:19 to go.
Barnes dunked again to tie it 76-76 and only 54 seconds were left to play.
Burks put Marshall on top with four free throws in the final 34 seconds.
“We told them at halftime [the Pirates] were not going to quit,” D’Antoni said. “You don’t quit in tournament games.”