HUNTINGTON — Two of the Marshall Thundering Herd's all-time greatest men's basketball players shared the program's future Thursday, April 4, with someone poised to replace them.
Senior point guard Jon Elmore, senior guard C.J. Burks and freshman forward Taevion Kinsey were in the spotlight when Marshall defeated Green Bay, 90-70, in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship game that gave the Herd its first national tournament triumph since winning the 1947 small-college NAIB title.
Elmore spoke to reporters for several minutes afterward, reflecting on his final Marshall game and record-setting career.
He finished by saying, "I'll be honest, I'm going to miss it."
He'll be missed too by the more than 115,000 spectators who attended games this season in Cam Henderson Center, including the championship game announced turnout of 5,748 that made enough noise to sound as though there were many more.
Marshall (23-14) surged back from a 13-point deficit with 6:11 remaining in the first half. Burks tossed in Marshall's final seven point of the half to pull the Herd within 42-40.
It was all Marshall after that as the Herd rolled to a 21-point advantage with 1:06 left on the game clock.
Burks popped in 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting that included several hard drives to the basket that capped his career in fifth place in Herd history with 1,892 points. Elmore's school and Conference USA-record point total rose to 2,638 with a 17-point performance.
Kinsey, a forward who made the move from guard during the season, posted his initial Marshall double-double performance of 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The senior quartet of Elmore, Burks, Rondale Watson (eight points, eight rebounds) and Christian Thieneman added to the program history they made, which included last season's C-USA championship and winning the program's first NCAA Tournament game.
"I'm just proud of those kids," said Marshall head coach Dan D'Antoni, his head dripping water from a post-game dousing in the locker room. "A good way for this group to go out. They set a lot of firsts in Marshall history."
D'Antoni said winning a championship is hard no matter where it is and who it is against. He said only four teams will be happy when the season ends — the NCAA champion, NIT champion, CBI champion and CIT champion — and Marshall is one of them.
Green Bay (21-17) stayed with Marshall in the early minutes of the second half and held a 59-58 lead with 12:02 to go. Kinsey rose up to tip in an Elmore miss, followed by a Kinsey steal and Burks layup that put Marshall ahead for good at 62-59 with 11:12 remaining. Burks continued driving for baskets and Kinsey tipped in some missed shots that protected the lead. Burks put together a personal six-point run when Marshall pulled away 72-62 with 8:38 left in the game.
"Until about the 12-minute mark I thought we had played pretty well," Green Bay head coach Linc Darner said. "We kind of hit the wall and they had energy. When they made their run and got up eight we hit the panic button a little bit."
The Phoenix from the Horizon League was led by junior forward ShanQuan Hemphill with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Senior guard Sandy Cohen III scored his 13 all in the first half and junior guard JayQuan McCloud added 11 points.
After the final buzzer Marshall fans joined their team at center court to celebrate. "We Are The Champions" played, the championship trophy was presented and the team cut down the nets.
Burks was honored as the CIT Most Valuable player and joined by Elmore and Kinsey on the all-tournament team that also included Hemphill and Cohen from Green Bay; Trevond Barnes from Hampton; and Tyrik Armstrong and Jeremy Combs from Texas Southern.