Chuck Landon: Johnny Buckets is back at Marshall

February 1, 2019

Johnny Buckets is back. Thats the nickname Marshall University star point guard Jon Elmore earned during the 2017-18 season while being named MVP of the Conference USA Tournament and leading the Thundering Herd to its first NCAA Tournament win in history. But Johnny Buckets has been in absentia during the 2018-19 season as Elmore suffered through some uncharacteristic slumps. Until Thursday night, that is. Elmore exploded for a career-high 44 points while leading Marshall to a 91-86 win over UTEP. As for Johnny Buckets? Just ask Danny DAntoni. John was Johnny Buckets again tonight, said Marshalls fifth-year head coach with a smile. Was he ever. It started early in the first half when Elmore swished a 3-pointer from 24 feet at the top of the key. Then when Marshall fell behind, 25-18, Elmore took over. First, the 6-foot-3 senior made an off-balance, 10-foot jumper in traffic. Then, after a Jarrod West 3-pointer, Elmore scored the final seven points of the half. He scored on a driving layup, a 3-pointer from the left corner and another drive to finally pull Marshall even, 37-37, at the half. Those 18 points in the first half were just the jump-start Elmore needed for his flagging confidence. I wanted to cry at one point just to see the ball going through the bottom of the net, said Elmore. In that case, UTEP would have cried Elmore a river for what he did to the Miners in the second half. He absolutely took the game over. First, Elmore hit a step-back three from the right wing to give Marshall a 40-37 lead. Next, came a three-pointer from the right corner followed by a step-back, fall-away jumper after backing a defender into the paint. Johnny Buckets was just getting started. Next, he backed a defender down again, but then quickly retreated to the 3-point line and drilled another trey from the right wing. By then, Elmore had 29 points with 16:52 still left to play. Next, Elmore made a 15-footer from the right base-line. Then, there was another 3-footer and another driving layup. Why, Johnny Buckets even managed to get fouled on a 3-pointer and, of course, he drained all three foul shots. Finally, in the final 35 seconds Elmore nailed five of six free throws to nail the victory down. Im finally bouncing back, said Elmore, who couldnt quit smiling during the post-game press conference. Theres one very good reason for that. For the first time in a long while, Elmore had fun playing basketball Thursday night. The heavy expectations Elmore was placing on himself and the overwhelming feeling that he wasnt reaching his goals and was letting himself down were so over-powering mentally and emotionally, it was draining all of Elmores energy. He needed to have fun again. And he did on Thursday night. The biggest thing is just having fun, said Elmore. I got down on myself the last few weeks hitting the wall, hitting the wall. You want to quit. But thats not in Elmores DNA. So, instead, he listened to a friends advice about having fun playing basketball again. I had fun tonight, said Elmore with a knowing smile. Welcome back, Johnny Buckets. <ct:Bold>Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.<ct:>

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