C-USA rivals try to keep game in perspective
HUNTINGTON — One game doesn’t a season make.
Even when it’s a big one such as Western Kentucky University at Marshall University in Conference USA men’s basketball at 7 p.m. Saturday in Cam Henderson Center.
WKU (8-7, 1-1 conference) and Marshall (9-6, 2-0) meet in a rematch of last season’s C-USA championship game in Frisco, Texas, the Herd won, 67-66, after the Hilltoppers took both regular-season clashes.
A large crowd approaching capacity (9,048) is anticipated,
maybe surpassing the season’s highest turnout of 7,854 spectators for a Nov. 11 game against Hofstra University. All reserved seats are sold.
Marshall legend Hal Greer, a Huntington native who died April 14, 2018, at age 81, will be represented by his wife, Mayme, daughters Kelly and Cherie, son Hal Jr., and his sister, Jean, at a halftime presentation to unveil the design of a memorial statue to be erected outside the arena. Sculptor Frederick Hightower, of Huntington, was chosen for the project.
Greer is enshrined in the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Numerous former members of Marshall basketball teams will be present for an alumni event.
“For this one game it means a lot,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “For the one game, not for the season. For this one game, we want to win it because it’s the game we’re playing, its Western, we have our alumni here, Hal Greer is going to be honored, and we want to win. Once that’s over, win or lose, it doesn’t mean a thing.
“We got beat 30 points here (112-87) last year by them. We go down there (85-74 loss) and should have won it. Then we end up winning it (the C-USA championship). What did that game mean last year now? You could have written us off after they beat us 30 points. Most people probably did.”
WKU head coach R ick Stansbury said the Hilltoppers aren’t talking about last season because it’s two different teams now. Motivation needs to be your next game, he said.
Marshall’s 6-foot-3 senior point guard Jon Elmore acknowledged the game’s importance.
“It’s kind of turned into a rivalry,” Elmore said. “The teams don’t really like each other a whole lot, but they’ve been really good games in the past. I know we beat them in the conference championship, so that’s going to be fresh on their mind.”
The Herd opened its conference schedule last week with a win at Old Dominion University (70-67) on sophomore guard Jarrod West’s 3-point field goal with 1.9 seconds left then won again at Charlotte (85-84) when 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Mikel Beyers blocked a 49ers 3-point attempt as the game ended.
Elmore averages 19.0 points and 5.2 assists per game in a pursuit of several school and conference records. The Charleston native is third on the Marshall and C-USA career lists with 2,173 points and is second for assists with 674. He is second all-time at Marshall in 3-point field goals with 281 and tied for seventh with 142 assists.
Elmore’s scoring average dropped under 20.0 in the last five games when he was 4 for 30 on 3-pointers.
“Now, do you think that will happen Saturday?” Stansbury said. “Absolutely not. He’s a great player and great players rise to certain occasions. He seems to do that on most given nights.”
Marshall also has 6-4 senior guard C.J. Burks with a 17.2 average and 1,496 career points that puts him 18th in the Herd record book. Burks scored 25 at Charlotte, the 70th time in 108 games he reached double figures.
Forward Jannson Williams, a 6-9 sophomore for the Herd, scores 9.5 points a game and collects 4.7 rebounds. Taevion Kinsey, the reigning C-USA Freshman of the Week, follows with 7.3 points, 6-4 senior guard Rondale Watson scores 6.8, 6-7 sophomore forward Darius George is next with 6.2 and West adds 6.1.
“You never want to lose, but if you lose it’s not the end of the world,” Elmore said. “It’s still really early in conference play. We’ve got a lot to look forward to. We want to take it one game at a time and try to win everything in front of us.
“Everybody is fired up because everybody knows we’ve got our best basketball ahead of us, hopefully, so we’re staying confident.”
WKU finished non-conference play with the 19th-best strength of schedule in the nation according to the Sagarin Ratings with some impressive wins against West Virginia, Arkansas, St. Mary’s and Wisconsin, but split its first two C-USA games.
The Hilltoppers won at Charlotte (68-50) and blew a 21-0 lead in a loss at Old Dominion (69-68). Stansbury said a 21-point lead in today’s game means nothing.
“You can’t discount their team or their record or what they’ve done,” D’Antoni said. This is a good ball club. Throw the records out, they’re a good ball club. They’ve got good players and this is going to be a good game.”
Taveion Hollingsworth is a 6-2 sophomore guard who leads WKU’s scoring (15.5); 6-11, 245-pound freshman Charles Bassey (14.6) and Jared Savage (14.2), a 6-5 junior, are right behind. Six-foot-6 sophomore Josh Anderson averages 9.3.
Bassey is a 65.0 percent field goal shooter who also pulls down 9.0 rebounds and leads the conference with 2.5 blocked shots.
“They say he’s one-and-done (to the NBA), but obviously it’s still a projection,” D’Antoni said. “He’s really good. It’s a chance to come see a great player.”
WESTERN KENTUCKY (8-7, 1-1) at MARSHALL (9-6, 2-0)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cam Henderson Center, Huntington
TV: CBS Sports Network on Facebook Watch
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM, WMUL 88.1-FM