SAN DIEGO — For the first time in its otherwise landmark season, Marshall failed to have a 20-point scorer.
And the Thundering Herd was mashed by intrastate rival West Virginia, 94-71. Coincidence or not?
At times, Sunday’s NCAA tournament nightcap was a lunch-money robbery on the playground, as the 40-24 rebounding margin shows. But at other times, the Herd got in its own way or couldn’t buy a break.
The closest one of the Herd’s “big three” players got to the 20 mark was Ajdin Penava, with a solid line of 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, with six assists. But the nation’s leading shot-blocker only had one, and his six rebounds were not nearly enough.
But the other two, Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks, struggled. The 15th-ranked Mountaineers had something do with it, but both committed uncharacteristic, unforced errors.
Elmore would drive to the basket and fling it out to a man on the 3-point line, only to have that man zip to another spot. That example was one of Elmore’s eight turnovers.
Elmore finished with 15 points and four assists, but he had only three points and no assists in the first half, when WVU took a 42-25 lead. Two days earlier, Elmore electrified the country with a 27-point performance, but he went just 4 of 12 from all distances Sunday.
“Credit to them,” Elmore said. “They're a heck of a team. They get after it. I think their physicality got to us a little bit. They've got quick hands, hand-check, ride you up the floor. They defend, trap, run all kind of different guys at you, and they’re versatile.”
Burks went 3 of 15 from the floor, 1 of 9 from 2-point range. His midrange game and patented floater was never in sync — sometimes from the sight of an approaching Sagaba Konate, but other times for no apparent reason.
The Martinsburg native had three turnovers, one when the ball simply got away from him with the nearest defender 40 feet away.
It was that kind of night. Rondale Watson was bumped hard twice without getting a call, and several Herd players slipped on the same spot on the court in the first half.
But the worst luck the Herd suffered came with 8:21 left in the first half, when Jannson Williams and WVU’s Wesley Harris slammed into each other. Williams was later taken to a hospital for a CT scan.
Harris didn’t return, either, but Williams’ absence hurt his team a lot more. The 6-foot-9 freshman from Newnan, Georgia, had three rebounds and two blocks in his eight minutes, and looked to be matching WVU’s physicality at times. His play in the late season and the postseason were a major factor in the Herd’s march to the Round of 32.
When Williams was injured, the Herd trailed just 23-20, trying to stem a 12-2 run. When play resumed, that run stretched to 23-2.
Could that have happened anyway? Perhaps, but the Herd’s usual seven-man rotation became a lean six, and the mental effect of the injury can’t be quantified.
It all added up to one of Marshall’s most forgettable postseason games, which came 48 hours after one of brightest moments in the program’s history.
“We didn’t play well. We didn’t play as hard as you need to play,” said coach Dan D’Antoni. “Listen, you've got to give them credit. They're tough.”