SAN DIEGO -- Marshall has won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history.
The Thundering Herd's monumental 81-75 upset of fourth-seeded Wichita State on Friday also ensured that, for just the fourth time ever, two No. 13 seeds have won their first-round games.
After Buffalo dismantled Arizona 89-68 on Thursday night, Marshall -- which finished fourth in Conference USA before winning the conference tournament -- advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament with a performance that was impressive from start to finish in the first game of the day at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena.
The Thundering Herd (25-10), coached by Dan D'Antoni -- the older brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni -- never looked intimidated despite going against a Wichita State program that has advanced to the round of 32 each of the past five seasons. In addition, Marshall did it with a starting lineup that doesn’t feature a single senior and a roster that is expected to return its top nine scorers next season.
Forget next season, though. For Marshall, the time is now. The Thundering Herd will play the winner of West Virginia-Murray State on Sunday for a chance to reach the Sweet 16. If the fifth-seeded Mountaineers take care of business, it would set up the first-ever matchup between teams from the state of West Virginia in the NCAA tournament.
“I like these guys, I like the chance riding with them. Fun to be on a trip with, and they're fun to watch to play, and it's real fun when we win," D’Antoni said. "So we're going to try to do that one more time.
“I told them at the beginning the goal is to win the NCAA tournament. Wherever we get in the car driving down the road to that championship, when it stops, we'll all get off [and] we'll be happy because we like who is in the car. We like the journey we're on.”
Marshall junior point guard Jon Elmore, perhaps one of the most underappreciated players in college basketball, played the entire game and scored 27 points to leave Wichita State shocked.
“Is it typical? He did it all year long. Jon is a special player, and he's proven that year-round,” D’Antoni said. “He was MVP of our tournament. He's a coach on the floor. There's a lot of times I step aside to let him give what he thinks, and he and I have a good time together. We've always enjoyed ... he's funny. He'll come over and go, ‘That was pretty good, wasn't it, Coach?’ when he made a good play. And I say, ‘Shut up, Jon’ and he'll say, ‘That was pretty good. I know you liked that.’”
Marshall’s last NCAA tournament appearance came in 1987 but was later vacated, and the Thundering Herd had just one win in any nonconference postseason tournament -- over Western Carolina in the 2010 CollegeInsider.com Tournament -- since 1967, when Marshall won a pair of NIT games with D’Antoni on the roster. Friday's win also marks the fourth straight year a team from Conference USA has pulled off a first-round upset.
Wichita State left the Missouri Valley Conference, which it had been a member of since 1945, before this season and joined the American, where the Shockers were more regularly matched with a higher caliber of competition. That supposed leap in conference prestige was theoretically going to help better prepare the Shockers for the NCAA tournament, but the first-round loss raises the possibility the team got caught looking ahead.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall contends the team’s mindset didn’t change against Marshall compared with tournament games in years past.
“No, I don't think [it did], at least from my perspective,” Marshall said. “I can't read the minds of my players, but from a coaching staff perspective it didn't change at all. Our preparation was as thorough and diligent as we could possibly do. They had our full and undivided attention.”