Marshall guards are marked men
HUNTINGTON — Jon Elmore’s reputation precedes him everywhere he plays.
He’s a candidate for All-American and Conference USA Player of the Year honors, a potential NBA Draft pick and the leader of the Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball team, averaging 20.8 points, 5.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game entering a 2 p.m. Saturday game at Texas A&M.
Opponents are ready for him, he can’t sneak up on anybody, but that doesn’t bother him or affect how he plays.
“It’s just a matter of staying focused,” the 6-foot-3 senior point guard from Charleston said. “Just preparing every day. This is what I love to do. This is where I want to be. Marshall has been a dream come true for me, so it’s just about improving every day and staying focused.”
Elmore said his goal as a senior was to repeat what Marshall did last season and improve on it.
Marshall (7-4) was 25-11 last season when it won the C-USA championship and advanced into the NCAA Tournament where the Herd won against Wichita State and lost to West Virginia in the round of 32. Elmore received All C-USA first team recognition with league-leading season averages of 22.7 points and 6.7 rebounds along with 5.8 rebounds.
“We’ve had a couple bumps in the road, but we’ve also showed glimpses that we have a chance to be really, really good,” he said. “I’m going to keep working and hopefully keep improving as the year goes on.”
Saturday’s stop in College Station, Texas, to face Texas A&M (5-4) from the Southeastern Conference is the third of five consecutive games away from home. Next is a New Year’s Eve visit to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take on No. 5 Virginia from the Atlantic Coast Conference followed by the beginning of conference play Jan. 3 at Old Dominion and Jan. 5 at Charlotte.
Marshall also has 6-4 senior guard C.J. Burks from Martinsburg, West Virginia, scoring 18.0 points and getting some of the same attention as Elmore. Burks was an all-conference second team selection last season with a 20.1 scoring average.
Elmore and Burks are marked people now, Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said.
“They’re giving me everything I wanted,” D’Antoni said. “They prepare. They play as hard as they can play. I’m satisfied.”
After its lead backcourt tandem, Marshall’s scoring drops off to 6-9 sophomore forward Jannson Williams with 9.6 a game and 6-7 sophomore forward Darius George at 6.8. Williams, Elmore and 6-4 senior guard Rondale Watson are the leading rebounders with 4.7 a game.
The Herd is looking for someone to solidify the fifth starting position that all-conference third-team forward Ajdin Penava filled last season with his ability execute the pick-androll offense that in turn opened things up for perimeter shooters such as Elmore and Burks.
D’Antoni compared the situation to past Marshall teams with his brother, NBA Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, as the point guard. Marshall had a 23-4 record in 1971-72 and was an NCAA Tournament team led by Mike D’Antoni and forward Russell Lee. The Herd was 20-7 in 1972-73 without Lee and was in the National Invitation Tournament.
This season Marshall opened with a 4-0 record then lost at ACC opponent Maryland (104-67) and has gone 3-3 since, but won its most recent contests against Morehead State and at Akron.
Old Dominion created some C-USA excitement last weekend with a win at 25th-ranked Syracuse and Marshall could do the same by winning at either Texas A&M or Virginia, or both.
“It shows that the playing field is more equal than people think,” Elmore said.
Texas A&M was in the NCAA Sweet 16 last season and has won four in a row, against South Alabama, Northwestern State, at Oregon State and Wednesday against Valparaiso (71-49). D’Antoni said the Aggies played No. 8 Gonzaga pretty close for a while in a game that got away from them in a 94-71 defeat.
The high-scoring Herd (83.3 a game) faces a strong defense of the Aggies that allows only 69.4 points a game and held its last three opponents to less than 35 percent shooting. Valparaiso (6-6) shot 34 percent and was 3 for 22 on its 3-point attempts.
The Aggies are led by T.J. Starks, a 6-2 sophomore guard averaging 13.0 points. Savion Flagg is a 6-7 sophomore forward scoring 12.1 points and grabbing 7.0 rebounds. Christian Mekowulu (6-8, 245-pound senior) averages 10.3 points and six rebounds.
Elmore said the game at Texas A&M reminds him of the NCAA Tournament victory against Wichita State.
“They (Wichita State) had a really good team last year and we played our style of play and we didn’t allow what they did affect us,” he said.
“When we play our game, I think we’re as good as anybody.”
HERD NOTES: Elmore’s 652 career assists is eight from passing Mike D’Antoni’s 659 for second place in school records. ... Burks scored 10 or more in all 11 games this season. Dan D’Antoni’s five-season record with the Herd is 80-67.
MARSHALL (7-4) at TEXAS A&M (5-4)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
TV: SEC Network Plus
Radio: WDGG 93.7- FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM