There is something about Marshall that brings out the best in Old Dominion — over the final 20 minutes.
The sixth-seeded Monarchs scored the first eight points of the second half and never looked back, roaring past the 11th-seeded Thundering Herd 73-58 Wednesday in the second round of the Conference USA tournament at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.
It was the second time in two weeks the Monarchs poured it on the Thundering Herd after the break. On Feb. 27 in Norfolk, Va., Old Dominion trailed by two at halftime but shot 61.5 percent after the break and won 70-63.
This time, the Monarchs led by two at the break before torching Marshall for 70 percent second-half shooting. Guard Aaron Bacote scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, and guard Dimitri Batten collected all 13 of his points after the break to help the Monarchs cruise to a victory in their C-USA tournament debut. The Monarchs, who received a bye in the first round, joined the league in July 2013.
“It was a great game for 20 minutes,” Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones said. “In the first half, it was like we were running in mud. I guess that’s just the tension.”
Old Dominion (16-16) will face third-seeded Middle Tennessee State (23-8) in the tournament quarterfinals Thursday afternoon.
Guard Kareem Canty scored all 17 of his points in the second half for Marshall, which was within two points at halftime but fell behind by as many as 18 after the break.
“Clearly in the second half we were non-existent defensively, with no quality stops,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. “Offensively, we struggled for a while, but in the end I was really disappointed with how we responded in the last 20 minutes defensively.”
Marshall (11-22) got an unlikely boost in the first half as forward Shawn Smith scored 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting. He came in averaging 7.3 points per game. Smith’s 3-pointer with exactly six minutes left put the Thundering Herd ahead 20-18, but Marshall scored just two points the rest of the half and none in the final 4:35.
Old Dominion was only marginally more effective offensively early but used a put-back by guard Keenan Palmore with 2:43 left to establish the 24-22 edge they took into intermission. It was one of 11 first-half offensive rebounds for the Monarchs, who used their work on the boards to offset 32 percent first-half shooting from the field and 10 turnovers.
After the Monarchs’ similarly shaky first half in the teams’ first meeting last month, Jones admitted he lit into his charges in the locker room with language not fit for a family newspaper.
“I yelled loudly,” Jones said with a laugh. “But basically, I told them to just go out and play basketball the way they’re capable of playing.”
Smith cooled off in the second half and finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Chris Thomas, Marshall’s second leading scorer (13.0 points per game) during the regular season, scored only four Wednesday on 2-of-8 shooting.
“I wouldn’t say they slowed me down,” Smith said. “I really wanted to get (Canty) going. If we can get Canty and (Thomas) going, that’s another 15 or 16 points. It would have been a different story.”
NOTES: Marshall advanced to the second round with a 63-59 victory over 11th-seeded Florida Atlantic in Tuesday’s first round. … Old Dominion downed Marshall 70-63 in the teams’ lone regular-season meeting on Feb. 27 in Norfolk, Va. … Old Dominion notched its first postseason victory in two years. The Monarchs were declared ineligible for conference tournament play in all sports for the 2013-14 season by the Colonial Athletic Association after the school announced it was leaving the CAA for Conference USA.
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