Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (29-4) are in the Conference USA Championship game after two blow-out victories over UTSA and UTEP. Their final hurdle in their quest to their second straight title is the Marshall Thundering Herd (20-14).
After defeating Florida Atlantic on Wednesday, the Herd took down Old Dominion 64-63 in a tightly contested game that they lead by 17 at one point. They followed that up by shocking the second-seeded Louisiana Tech Bulldogs by a final score of 93-77.
Every year, there is a team in each tournament that gets hot when it matters and for Conference USA, it’s this smooth-shooting Thundering Herd team.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s championship match-up:
Elmore and Loop can shoot the lights out
It’s no secret for anyone who has seen this Marshall team play that they can shoot as well as anyone in the country. They enter the game averaging 86 points a game as a team, good for sixth in the country. The starting lineup can do a ton of damage when they are at their best and the two that Middle Tennessee must control are Jon Elmore and Austin Loop.
One thing that stands out is the consistency of their shots. In the game against LA Tech, the two combined to make 13 of their 20 three-point attempts. When they get going, it’s really hard to slow them down. The Blue Raiders will rely on Ed Simpson and Giddy Potts to shut these two down for Middle Tennessee to have a chance to win.
Taylor is just as dangerous in the paint
While Elmore and Loop are threats from the perimeter, forward Ryan Taylor is a big threat to the interior as well.
Taylor played a big game down low against the Bulldogs, recording a double-double of 19 points and 11 boards on an efficient 7-11 day shooting from the floor. Blue Raider bigs JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw and Brandon Walters have been great so far throughout the tournament at shutting the opposing team’s big guys down. They must do it again in order to be victorious.
Take advantage of the defense
While the Thundering Herd offense looks great when they are shooting well, their defense is currently ranked 345th in the country at giving up 84 points a game. In the previous two match-ups, the Blue Raiders won both by executing their offense and put up 97 points in the game at Marshall.
The last time these teams met in the Murphy Center, MTSU held Marshall to just 57 points, almost 30 below their seasonal average. Thundering Herd head coach Dan D’antoni knows that his team will have to play their best game of the season if they want to have any chance to beat the Blue Raiders.
“They’re good. Here’s the adjustment: we better play damn good or they’ll blow us off the floor,” D’antoni said. “They’re going to do what they do, we are going to do what we do. If they beat us, they beat us. If we beat them, good for us and yay for Marshall.”
The game is set to tip-off tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Legacy Arena and can be viewed on the CBS Sports Network.