WICHITA (TNS) — For the first time in 31 years, the Marshall men’s basketball team is in the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 13 seed Thundering Herd (24-10) will play No. 4 seed Wichita State (25-7) in the first round in San Diego on Friday and WSU coach Gregg Marshall and assistant Donnie Jones know just how much it will mean to the program in Huntington, W.Va.
That’s because Marshall spent two seasons there as an assistant coach, from 1996-98, and Jones, a West Virginia native, was an assistant from 1990-96 and then later the coach from 2007-10.
“A lot of nice people in Huntington, West Virginia,” Marshall said. “I’m so glad that they’re in and I hate that we have to play them in the first round. It’s really incredible. I know the city is so excited and behind their team.”
Gregg Marshall experienced the last time Marshall won a regular-season league championship, as he was an assistant under Greg White when Marshall finished 20-9, won the Southern Conference championship, then lost 71-70 in overtime to Tennessee-Chattanooga in the conference tournament championship game in 1997.
“As I recall, Sidney Coles had a 15-foot jump shot at the elbow and if he made that in the Southern Conference finals in Greensboro, we would have won the tournament and gone to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1987. He missed it and we go to overtime and we missed a block-out and UT-Chattanooga tipped it in.
“They ended up not only going to the NCAA Tournament, but they went on to beat Georgia and Illinois and make it to the Sweet 16. We were so close, though.”
The area has remained close to Marshall, as his son, Kellen Marshall, was born at Cabell Huntington Hospital in 1996.
Jones grew up less than an hour away from Huntington and earned his master’s degree in sports management from Marshall in 1992. That’s when Jones officially joined the Marshall basketball staff as an assistant coach to a newly-named, 28-year-old Billy Donovan. The two worked together at Marshall for four years, then later won two national championships in 11 seasons together at Florida.
Jones declined to comment on Monday.