HUNTINGTON — It was a most un-Marshall-like victory in the Dan D’Antoni era, a 70-66 grinder Tuesday night over Chattanooga.
The Thundering Herd (6-3) made only one 3-pointer, barely preserving the 28-year, 850-game streak of making at least one. Jon Elmore made the play of the game to preserve the victory.
OK, what’s so unusual about Elmore, reigning Conference USA player of the week, making the play of the game? Well, it came on defense.
On a blocked shot. No kidding.
Hey Jon, what’s your vertical these days?
“I think it was about 40, last time we checked,” Elmore joked. “I had the adrenalin going, he came down the lane, tried me a little bit and I just had to load up and jump. Made the block, felt good, talked a little smack after it.”
Rodney Chatman was the one trying to reverse Marshall’s 67-66 lead with about 10 seconds left. The Mocs (4-5) took possession after MU’s Ajdin Penava traveled, and had a chance to sneak out of Cam Henderson Center victorious.
As Chatman fell into the Marshall cheerleaders, that wasn’t the end of the strange finish. Elmore was fouled and made just one of two with 7.7 seconds left, allowing the Mocs one more chance to erase a two-point lead.
As Elmore’s shot bounced away, 6-foot-10 Makinde London let the ball bounce once, then scooped it up and headed to the other end. With 25 points, 18 rebounds and good all-around skills, he was as good a candidate as any to make a heroic basket.
London got to halfcourt and fired — about 3 seconds early. He could have taken the ball to the rim if he saw an opening.
“And the funny thing was, we practiced half-courts,” said Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris. “I have to tell Makinde we didn’t draw up the half-courter on that one. As it turns out, he did make the half-courter that won the competition today.
MU’s Jannson Williams picked up the errant shot, was fouled and made two free throws with 0.3 seconds left to set the final score, punctuating a “we’ll take it” victory in front of 4,811.
That broke the Herd’s five-game losing streak to Chattanooga, dating back to their Southern Conference days in 1996-97. The whole affair pretty much wore D’Antoni out, though he was joking as much as ever.
“How little, frail we are, everybody says we can’t hang in there, can’t play any ‘D,’” D’Antoni joked. “I’m at least getting a ‘D’ tonight for D’Antoni. I thought they did a great job.”
C.J. Burks scored 23 points on 10-of-20 shooting and Jon Elmore went 8 of 16 to add 22. But they combined to go 1 of 10 from 3-point range, and the team finished 1 of 16.
Elmore made the team’s only 3 with 8:35 left in the first half, preserving a streak that dates back to an 0-for-2 performance against Appalachian State on Feb. 27, 1989.
He had only two assists, and the Herd tried only five 3-pointers in the second half, which points to a strategy of driving the lane. The Herd was down 36-30 at halftime, and needed to manufacture baskets and free throws.
“We got some good looks and they just weren’t falling tonight, so we started attacking in the second half, got layups, got to the free-throw line,” Elmore said. “Even through we weren’t hitting 3-pointers, we were finding ways to score.”
The Herd started the second half with a 16-1 trot — it took nearly seven minutes, so you couldn’t call it a run. That 46-37 lead was the largest of the game, and the Mocs chipped it away over the next 10 minutes. When Makale Foreman hit a 3-pointer, the Mocs led 62-60 with 2:45 left.
Burks made three tremendous plays after that. First, he blooped in his trademark floater amid contact, earning a three-point play, then he shook between two defenders to give the Herd a 65-64 lead with 1:41 left.
As the clock neared the 45-second mark, he came out of nowhere to steal a pass and scored at the other end to make it 67-64. That lead was enough for the Herd to survive London’s last basket and the craziness that followed.
Penava had six blocks, though D’Antoni felt that was undercounted. The Mocs’ 19 turnovers weren’t undercounted though — 10 of those came on traveling calls, which distressed Paris.
“We practice jump-stopping. A lot,” he said. “It was strange to me that we traveled 10 times. That, and we’re not the craziest, most out-of-control penetrators, either.”
The season slows a bit for the Herd, which plays at Toledo at 7 p.m. Saturday before breaking for finals. The next home game is Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. against Ohio.