Chuck Landon: Crowd helps Herd win CIT title
Call it “April Madness.”
Call it the biggest victory in the last 72 years of Marshall Thundering Herd basketball.
Call it a 90-70 utter domination of Green Bay for the CIT championship on Thursday night in Cam Henderson Center that even Aaron Rodgers would applaud.
But most of all -- and once and for all -- let’s call this what it is.
Namely, that Huntington is a basketball town.
That’s what everyone witnessed Thursday night with a crowd that appeared much larger than the announced attendance of 5,748.
Just ask Green Bay coach Linc Darner.
“What a great atmosphere,” he said. “We hadn’t played in front of a crowd like this since at Michigan State and DePaul. I thought the crowd was a big key. When they got up eight (points), we kind of pushed the panic button and the crowd played a role in that.”
Of course it did.
That’s what happens in The Cam.
How appropriate that this was Marshall’s first post-season tournament championship since the coach this arena was named after won one in 1947. And the Herd even won it in his gym.
It doesn’t get better than that.
And nobody realizes it more than Marshall coach Danny D’Antoni with his green pedigree.
“Marshall basketball is exciting again,” he said, after the post-game festivities were completed. “It’s fun.”
Fun? Yes. Easy? No.
Senior standout C.J. Burks saw to that.
Late in the first half, the 6-foot-4 senior started to notice that Green Bay couldn’t defend him off the dribble. That’s why Burks ended the first half by scoring seven consecutive points – four on drives – to narrow Marshall’s halftime deficit to 42-40.
Then, in the second half, Burks simply took over and nearly was unstoppable.
“He goes so strong,” said D’Antoni, “but he finishes so softly.”
As a result, Burks poured in 17 points in the second half and scored a game-high 28 points. In the process, he drew praise from Green Bay’s coach.
“We knew he was going to go right every time,” said Darner, “but we couldn’t stop it.”
That’s why Burks was named MVP of the championship game.
It’s also why D’Antoni was celebrating.
“I won my championship,” he said with obvious pride. “That’s why I came back. I remembered those days (when Marshall’s basketball was good). This is what I wanted to do and the players made it happen.”
Guess who else made it happen?
“We have some of the best fans in the country,” said Burks. “Our fans kept us engaged. They played a big part in this win.”
Which came as absolutely no surprise to the Thundering Herd’s star senior guard Jon Elmore.
“When we pack this place up,” said Elmore, “I don’t think there are many places in the country. … I would take this place over anybody.
“Coach D’Antoni took a chance on us. He gave us the keys and let us work. It means a lot that the program has shifted from where it was to where it is now.”
Namely, it shifted to championship caliber.
That’s all the natives ever wanted.
Huntington is a basketball town again.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.