PENSACOLA, Fla. — Simply put, the Bobcats were hungry.
Entering this season, Texas State had won back-to-back regular season Sun Belt Conference titles, but that success hadn’t translated to the league tournament, where it lost the opening game in both years.
That’s not the case this year, and an experienced team that has a championship pedigree awaits Marshall in the Sun Belt Conference men’s basketball quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday after handling Arkansas State in the first round and dismantling Old Dominion in the second round.
It will be the Thundering Herd’s debut in the SBC Tournament, earning a three-seed that came with a double bye and an automatic berth to the quarterfinals. For Texas State, it marks the third game in five days.
The Bobcats wanted to send a message against ODU: that they weren’t scared of the league’s four newcomers (the Monarchs, James Madison, Marshall or Southern Miss), and that’s exactly what happened Thursday afternoon.
Old Dominion managed only 36 points, the lowest scoring output for a team in the league’s tournament since 2015, and Texas State used strong defense and a disciplined offensive approach to cakewalk past the sixth-seed and line up a date with Marshall in the next round.
“We didn’t know how the game would go; just, we’d been here before,” Texas State coach Terrence Jones said after Thursday’s second-round victory. “We have been in the arena before, been in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament before, so we knew there was somewhat of an advantage when it came down to familiarity.”
The Bobcats jumped out to a 16-1 lead and their stifling defensive effort kept ODU from hitting a shot for more than 10 minutes to start the contest.
“It’s not an exotic defense. It’s old-fashioned, hard work, nose on the ball, moving their feet, playing aggressively and contesting at the rim,” ODU coach Jeff Jones said. “In the game down at Texas State earlier, we struggled with it at times but we were able to find things that worked. Tonight, nothing worked.”
Old Dominion had won its only other meeting with the Bobcats, 70-68 in San Marcos, Texas on Feb. 11. The Herd also defeated Texas State on the road earlier this season, 81-73, but the Bobcats kept things interesting.
Texas State held a lead twice in the second half of that contest and had it tied with under four minutes to play before Andrew Taylor and Jacob Conner closed things out at the free throw line for the final four points after the Bobcats were within two possessions inside the final minute.
To avoid an early exit for the Thundering Herd, coach Dan D’Antoni knows it will take a strong effort and that Marshall will get every team’s best shot.
“You’re in a tournament, so it’s one-and-done. The challenge is you have to play well and every team is going to be at their peak as far as effort goes with whatever they are trying to do,” D’Antoni said. “The biggest thing is being able to focus. You’ve got to play well and hope you make shots.”
Focus hasn’t been an issue thus far for the Herd in Pensacola after arriving Wednesday afternoon. Marshall held a spirited practice on Thursday before heading to the Pensacola Bay Center to watch Old Dominion and Texas State that evening. On Saturday, the Herd will look to wash away the taste of a disheartening loss to the Monarchs in the regular season finale.
“The last game was a little disappointing, with the way we played and the way we finished,” Kamdyn Curfman said. “So far we’ve put together a really good season. Twenty-four wins is something that hasn’t been done for a long time at Marshall, but we know we have to play our best basketball now and we’re looking to do that.”