Skip to Content
Women's Basketball

JMU And Marshall Played The Funniest Basketball Game Of The Season

A Marshall player lays on the floor with the ball at the end of regulation.
Screenshot: ESPN

There are certain parameters within which one expects most basketball games to unfold. While there are different styles of play out there, and a lot of unpredictable things can happen over the course of a game, when most of them are over you expect to be able to look at the box score and say, "Yep, looks like a basketball game happened here." Every now and then, however, a game produces a box score that is so cockeyed, so tilted, so stuffed in all the wrong places, that it demands investigation.

One such box score was produced in Monday's Sun Belt conference championship game, featuring Marshall and James Madison University. To cherrypick a few glaring stats: Marshall shot 8-of-46 from three-point range; JMU had 39 turnovers; Marshall shot 30 percent from the field; JMU shot 50 percent from the field; Marshall had 33 offensive rebounds; both teams combined to shoot 83 free throws. Marshall somehow won this game, 95-92, in overtime.

The box score from the Sun Belt conference championship game.
Just what the damn hell happened here?

How? How does something like this happen? The short answer to that question is that Marshall is an institutionally nutty basketball team. Led by first-year coach Kim Caldwell, who previously spent seven seasons turning Glenville into a D-II powerhouse, the Thundering Herd play what might be the most intense style of basketball in the country. Everything starts with a nihilistic commitment to the full-court press, which Marshall stays in every minute of a game, after misses or makes. This requires so much effort from the players that Caldwell spends the game making hockey-style substitutions, yanking players on and off the court after just a few minutes of run and often making four or five subs at once. Twelve players on Marshall's roster played more than 10 minutes per game this season.

Marshall's press is just one piece of this puzzle. This is a team that also possesses a Moreyball zealot's commitment to the three, and a '90s basketball enthusiast's love of the offensive rebound. A typical Marshall possession ends with one of their shooters firing away from deep while at least three players crash the paint looking for the offensive board. This is how the Thundering Herd were able to take 99 shots on Monday, compared to JMU's 53, and still score 95 points despite making less than a third of those shots.

To be clear, this style of play has worked out for Marshall. They were the best team in the Sun Belt this year, and melted most of their opponents by forcing turnovers and nailing threes. They went 26-6 and 17-1 in conference play, averaged 86 points per game, and regularly beat teams by 20-30 points.

JMU has been bothersome to Marshall all season, though. When the two played in January, Marshall won 77-70. When they met again in February, JMU handed Marshall their only conference loss of the season, beating them 72-63. Both of those games followed similar if less psychedelic beats as Monday's championship game, with Marshall nearly lapping JMU in field goal attempts but failing to put enough of them in the hoop to pull away.

Monday's game was nuts. Every JMU possession started with their guards trying to escape Marshall's press in the backcourt, a familiar sequence during which you could practically see thought bubbles filled with the words "fuck" and "oh fuck" and "fuck me" floating above the JMU players' heads. In the instances where JMU managed to get the ball across half court without getting stripped or throwing it away, they would initiate a vanilla offensive possession that most often ended with a mid-range jumper or a foul.

A typical Marshall possession developed like this: sprint directly at every JMU ball-hander and claw at them like a fiend; force a turnover and sprint to the other end of the court; pull the ball back out and pass it around a bit; fire up a three-pointer; miss badly; grab the offensive rebound and kick it back out; fire up another three-pointer; miss badly; immediately swarm whichever JMU player was unlucky enough to finally clear the defensive glass.

As the game went on and the players became more exhausted, more and more possessions ended with a soft foul that sent someone to the line because both teams spent what felt like the entire game in the bonus. Was this fun to watch? No, not really. It was, however, very funny. The most entertaining sequence came in the fourth quarter, when Marshall added an extra degree of devilishness to their press and forced seven turnovers in the first four minutes of the frame. They finally started scoring off some of those turnovers, and had a nine-point lead with 5:57 left to play. Whereas some teams might have taken this as an opportunity to slow things down a bit, maybe try to get some looks at the rim and protect the lead, Marshall just kept running and gunning. Marshall went 0-of-8 from three-point range over the last 5:20 of regulation, allowing JMU to claw back and tie things up with six seconds left to play. Marshall got one last chance to win it in regulation, and do you know what they did? Corner three. Clank. Overtime.

I honestly don't remember what happened in overtime. Somehow both teams managed to score more points than they did in the second quarter. Marshall made two threes. Aislynn Hayes hit the biggest shot of the game:

JMU head coach Sean O'Regan told reporters after the game that he was proud of his players. Sort of. "The stat sheet will make you question why you’re proud, because it looks pretty gross," he said. "But I’m proud of our group because we didn’t quit."

"That stat sheet is unbelievable," Caldwell said. "The ball wasn't going in."

This game, and this blog, are blessedly over.

Already a user?Log in

Welcome to Defector!

Sign up to read some more free blogs.

Or, click here to subscribe!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter