SAN DIEGO — Marshall has turned the "Big Dance" into a two-step.
First, the No. 13-seed Thundering Herd won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in school history by defeating heavily favored Wichita State, 81-75, Friday before 10,892 fans here in Viejas Arena.
Second, it advances Marshall to a second-round matchup against archrival West Virginia at a still to be determined time on Sunday. The Herd and Mountaineers never have met in NCAA Tournament play nor outside the state of West Virginia.
So, how did the underrated Herd make all this history happen during one sunny afternoon in Southern California?
All it took was Wichita State's defensive strategy blowing up in the Shockers' face, courtesy of Jon Elmore.
It became the story line the very first time Marshall's star junior point guard brought the ball up the floor. That's because the towering 6-foot-8 Markis McDuffie was guarding Elmore man-to-man.
Obviously, coach Gregg Marshall's strategy was to slow the 6-3 Elmore down by outmuscling and out-angling him. It became even more obvious when McDuffie picked up two early fouls trying to guard Elmore and was replaced by 6-6 Zach Brown.
Two more quick fouls on Brown later, 6-5 Austin Reaves took a turn.
None of them was successful.
Elmore lived at the foul line during the first half, making 9 of 11 attempts. The second half? He started receiving his mail there.
It reached the point that four different Shockers fouled Elmore seven times, allowing Elmore to score in double figures from the foul line, where he went 11 for 15.
Besides that, Wichita State couldn't guard Elmore on either side of the 3-point arc. When he wasn't taking the Shockers off the dribble, Elmore was nailing 4 of 8 3-pointers. He finished with a game-high 27 points.
Wichita State's unsuccessful defensive strategy on Elmore was clearly the difference in the game.
Just ask the Shockers.
"It seemed like he had the ball in his hands the whole game," said McDuffie. "He just keeps coming at you in a lot of different ways. I felt like I did pretty well when I was on him, but he's a very good player."
Coach Marshall concurred.
"He's a great player," said the veteran Wichita State coach.
"He showed that today. He hit big shot after big shot, controlled the tempo of the game, made his free throws. I thought there was a lot of plays in the game, obviously, but one of the big plays was they had the ball out in a short shot clock ... may have been three or four seconds, and they had it in their end in the second half.
"They threw it to him in front of their bench and he made an incredible 3-point shot. I think it tied the game at that point. We had led by as many as seven early in the second half and that was a big-time shot."
It was indeed incredible.
Even by Elmore's standards.
"It was the end of the shot clock and we ran a little play for me in the corner," said the junior star. "The dude played good defense, except I was working on my James Harden step-back a little. I got enough room and kind of threw it/shot it (with two hands) up there and swished it. It was a big play for us."
One of many on this day.
Somebody cue the two-step music.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald- Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.