Marshall advances with 95-81 victory over UTSA

Playing from behind all night, the UTSA Roadrunners rallied furiously to pull within five points of the Marshall Thundering Herd in the closing minutes of the second half.

From there, the Roadrunners twice had chances to hit shots and make it a one-possession game.

But fourth-seeded Marshall held No. 5 UTSA scoreless on both tries, turning the stops into a 95-81 victory in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament.

The tournament is being played in Frisco, in the Ford Center at the Star.

With the victory, Marshall (22-10) moves on to play ninth-seeded Southern Miss in a semifinal game set for 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Southern Miss (16-17) made the semis by shocking the top-seeded Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, 71-68, in overtime.

For UTSA (19-14), its dream of a berth in the NCAA tournament has been dashed.

But an opportunity looms to play in another postseason event, perhaps the National Invitation Tournament, the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

Regardless, none of that was consolation to the Roadrunners, who put together their best season in six years, won the tournament opener Wednesday night against UTEP but then failed to sustain the momentum.

“Our guys are pretty disappointed in there, and I think that’s a good sign,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast. “They really believed we could come here and win a bunch of games and give ourselves a chance.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way. You know, we wouldn’t want guys to be in there content or coming over to this tournament not thinking we’re going to win it.

“So, they’re a little disappointed right now. Their heads are down.”

Henson told KTKR radio that “we’re kind of planning on playing in (another) tournament” early next week.

“So, we’ll have to bounce back real quickly,” he said. “You got to put this one behind you. The dream of the Big Dance (the NCAA tournament) is behind us now. We’ll go play some more good basketball.”

Guard C.J. Burks led Marshall with 29 points, hitting 9 of 16 from the field. Forward Ajdin Penava added 22 points.

On the glass, Penava dominated with 12 boards and Burks pulled down nine. Point guard Jon Elmore ran the show with 15 points and 11 assists.

“They’re a good team,” Henson said. “They just spread the floor so well. They made good plays.”

Getting off to a fast start, the Thundering Herd raced to an 18-point lead in the first half.

UTSA cut it to 11 at the intermission. But Marshall stepped on the gas again, building a 15-point margin seven minutes into the second half.

At that juncture, the Roadrunners started to play their best ball of the night. They rallied to within 74-69 when Giovanni De Nicolao hit a jumper.

But that was as close as it would get.

UTSA made a couple of stops, only to come up empty offensively when Deon Lyle missed a three, followed by De Nicolao having his runner blocked by Jannson Williams.

Williams followed his block with a free throw, and then a three-point shot, boosting Marshall into a nine-point lead. UTSA never got closer than six the rest of the way.

Playing without injured Jhivvan Jackson, the Roadrunners probably didn’t have enough weapons to win the tournament.

But forward Byron Frohnen had his second double-double in two nights with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Forward Nick Allen and guard George Willborn III also scored 16, with freshman Keaton Wallace coming off the bench for 13.

Lyle was held to 2-of-15 shooting and five points.

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