HUNTINGTON — The BMOC at Marshall University had reporters lined up Tuesday waiting for interviews.
James Kelly, the Marshall men's basketball forward who hit the winning 3-point shot Saturday in a victory at Old Dominion, is also being noticed off campus.
"I got bugged a lot when I went out to eat the other night," he said. "People talking to me, wanting to take pictures and stuff like that. It was nice."
Kelly said he always wanted to make a game-winner, but didn't have the opportunity before. His shot was true, and that was nice too.
Marshall took the basketball against the Monarchs with the game tied, 75-75, and Jon Elmore's shot was swatted out of bounds with 10 seconds left. Kelly came off the bench during a timeout with nine seconds on the game clock.
Only seven seconds remained on the 30-second shot clock when Marshall put the basketball back in play. The Herd first looked to forward Ryan Taylor, but went to Kelly and he hit for the win.
Kelly's clutch shot and Marshall's victory set the stage for a big Conference USA week at home with games Thursday against Middle Tennessee and Saturday against UAB in Cam Henderson Center. UAB, 17-3 overall with the nation's longest win streak of 14 games, leads the conference at 7-0. Middle Tennessee (14-5) and Marshall (10-10) share second place with both teams at 6-1.
"You live for stuff like this," Kelly said before Tuesday's practice. "This is what all basketball players live to play for when you play the team that wants the same thing as you, and that's the conference championship. We, of course, want to win the conference.
"I think we can do it. If we go from today here on out and focus, take everything serious, like I said this is what we live for."
Two weekend wins won't win the conference, but it would put Marshall in good shape at the halfway point of the league season.
Kelly echoed the words of head coach Dan D'Antoni when he said it's still to early to get happy. Kelly said the Herd got a bit ahead of itself when it went to Charlotte last week and lost to the 49ers.
"We got a little complacent," Kelly said. "We got together (afterward) and got back on our right mindset and focus."
Marshall has come on strong from an 0-6 start to win 10 times in its last 14 contests and that mirrors Kelly's rise to elite player status in C-USA.
The 6-foot-8, 259-pound senior from Ann Arbor, Mich., is completing his eligibility after two seasons at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio; one season with the Miami Hurricanes in the Atlantic Coast Conference; and last season he sat out as a transfer to Marshall.
"James has proven he's one of the best players in the conference with potential to play beyond college," D'Antoni said.
Kelly averages 19.9 points (second in C-USA) and 10.0 rebounds (third) with a league-leading 10 double-double games, shoots 55.4 percent from the field (seventh), 23.0 percent on 3-point attempts and 78.5 percent at the foul line (ninth) with team highs of 23 blocked shots and 29 steals.
His ability to take and make 3-point shots is a weapon, and that's getting better too. He started the season missing his first 11 shots from the 3-point line.
"I heard a lot through the season for him to not shoot those shots," D'Antoni said. "I think he's capable of making them. When he can do that he's hard to guard.
"That's when we're at out best. That's when we really have a chance to be a great team."
Kelly said the team knew what it was capable of all along.
From the season opener at Tennessee when Marshall stayed with the Vols and lost by 10 to other games when the Herd went ahead early and faded in the second half, Kelly said confidence was always there.
It still is.
"We want to win a conference championship," he said.
Tip-Off Club: Herd junior guard Stevie Browning joins D'Antoni for a Tip-Off Club luncheon at noon Wednesday in Guyan Golf and Country Club.
Middle Tennessee (14-5, 6-1)
at Marshall (10-10, 6-1)
7 p.m. Thursday
Cam Henderson Center
Tickets: $10, $15, $25
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, WMUL 88.1-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM, 930-AM, 1340-AM