Marshall Thundering Herd basketball has been suiting up teams for over 100 years, but the program accomplished several feats during a historic 2017-18 season that had never been accomplished before in Huntington, West Virginia.
The building process that has been going on since head coach Dan D’Antoni’s arrival in the spring of 2014 hit a culmination of sorts and should operate as a springboard towards more success in the future for Marshal basketball.
The Herd’s season began with a 9-4 record in non-conference play and kept things rolling into C-USA play, bringing a 20-10 and 11-6 record in C-USA play into a regular season finale showdown with then-No. 24 Middle Tennessee, the regular season champions of C-USA.
Marshall had knocked off the Blue Raiders at home in January 73-63, but defeating them on the road when they were in the midst of an 11-game winning streak and a first-ever AP Top 25 ranking would be especially difficult.
But the Herd continued to have MTSU’s number and shocked the Blue Raiders by knocking them off 76-67 to finish the regular season at 21-10 overall and 12-6 in C-USA play, earning a first-round bye in the C-USA Tournament in Frisco, Texas.
That bye would wind up benefiting Marshall in the long run and in a quarterfinal matchup with UTSA, the Herd won 95-81 to advance to the semifinal round. But the caveat was the top-seeded Blue Raiders of MTSU shockingly fell to 9-seeded Southern Miss in the quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal showdown between Marshall and Southern Miss.
The Herd was able to take care of the Golden Eagles by a final score of 85-75 to advance to the C-USA Tournament Championship game for the second straight season, but this season’s opponent would be the 3-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
And what a championship game it would be when despite Marshall opening up a double-digit lead late in the second half, WKU rallied to cut the lead down to 67-66 with under 10 seconds remaining in the game.
Marshall was able to close the deal, however, and played a perfect game of keep-away to run out the final few seconds and win the program’s first-ever C-USA Tournament Championship. And for the first time since 1987, a bid into the NCAA Tournament.
It was an emotional moment for a program that hadn’t felt this level of success in over 30 years, but the Herd wasn’t just content on reaching the big dance. Marshall earned a 13-seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament and a battle with 4-seeded Wichita State in San Diego, California.
After a week of publicity and hype, the Herd was set for a game over three decades in the making. And despite the Shockers having a 93 percent chance of defeating the Herd according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, Marshall proved the doubters wrong and upset Wichita State 81-75.
It was Marshall’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win in its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 31 years. However, the Herd’s run came to an end in the Round of 32 against former in-state rival West Virginia.
A disappointing loss to WVU to end the season aside, the amount of history Marshall basketball made this season was remarkable and program-changing. The list of accomplishments from the program this season rejuvenated the Marshall fanbase and got the program on the national radar.
The Herd was picked seventh in C-USA basketball in the preseason, but managed to finish fourth in the regular season and won the C-USA Tournament Championship for the first time ever. Marshall hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1987, but accomplished that feat.
The program had never won an NCAA Tournament game, but accomplished that feat against an elite mid-major. The 25 wins during the course of the season were the most wins in a single season for Marshall basketball since the 1986-87 season.
Not to mention, the Herd defeated a Top 25 team on the road for the first time in 18 years, defeated a ranked conference foe on the road for the first time ever, and defeated two ranked teams in a single season for the first time in program history.
Individual seasons for players like Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks, and Ajdin Penava were also some of the greatest seasons for individual players in Marshall basketball history. It was a season of history and a season of firsts that the Marshall community should be extremely proud of.
And to think, the Herd could be even better next season. If the current makeup of the team stays intact plus the additions of bigs Iran Bennett and Levi Cook, Marshall could be in for an even better season in 2018-19.
Forgetting about next season for a moment, Marshall’s 2017-18 season was one of historic proportions and will be remembered forever as the turning point of Thundering Herd basketball.