There are days where I struggle in picking out what the “key” game is. Today…is not one of those days. First place in on the line in Clarksville tonight as the Racers invade the Dunn Center, taking on the Governors. Austin Peay currently has a half game lead on the Racers, and won their 1st meeting at the CFSB Center in Murray, holding off a furious late rally from the Racers. There’s a good reason these two are rivals; Every OVC conference championship game since 1987 has featured one, or both, of these teams. Tonight’s winner will be one step closer to the coveted double-bye, and possibly an OVC championship. (We can debate which is more important at a later date) That’s not to say that’s the only important game on the schedule…Morehead State faces Tennessee Tech in an important game for seeding, and SEMO visits Eastern Illinois, with the winner having a bigger cushion over the 8th and final seed into the OVC Tournament.
Murray State at Austin Peay, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
Last Meeting: AP 66, Murray 64
For Peay, a win would mean a full game and a half lead over the defending OVC champs, as well as a season sweep of the Racers, and would put the Govs a full game over the rest of the field. For Murray, a win would be their 5th straight, give the Racers the OVC lead by half a game, and revenge for a controversial loss in January that cost the Racers a 25-game home winning streak. The first game may have been big, but this one is even bigger. Lost in the madness of the first matchup, Austin Peay’s Justin Blake going 5-5 from 3-point range, the only Governor to hit a 3 in that game. Murray is shooting 50% from the field in OVC play, but Peay held the Racers to 42% on their home court. The team that loses also loses control over their destiny when it comes to winning the conference. Last time out, the Govs controlled Martin on the way to a 82-53 rout of the Skyhawks. Murray picked up a tough win on the road at Tennessee State. Aren’t rivalries fun?
Morehead State at Tennessee Tech, 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: TTU 64, Morehead 76
Morehead may have been picked to challenge Murray for the OVC title, but the Eagles have seemed to play second fiddle to the Racers and Governors most of the year. But Morehead is still in the hunt, and travels to a tough Tennessee State squad. Both teams are 8-4 in the conference, and ride 3-game win streaks heading into this match up. Morehead’s road woes were apparent last time out, having to hang on after blowing a 22-point lead to the team with the fewest OVC wins: Jacksonville State. Tennessee State stayed in the hunt with a defensive win over Eastern Kentucky.
Neither team had game notes posted at the time of this preview.
Southeast Missouri at Eastern Illinois, 6:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: EIU 75, SEMO 78
Low in the standings, but high in importance. Just 1/2 game separates these two in the final two qualifying spots for the OVC tournament, with Martin just one win behind them both. The Redhawks have fallen on hard times, losers of 6 straight. Their last win was against EIU. The Panthers have lost 3 in a row since upsetting the Racers in Murray. In their last matchup, SEMO’s starting 5 all scored in double digits, partially thanks to 37 fouls committed by the Panthers, leading to 44 SEMO Free Throws. EIU did manage 25 second chance points of 17 offensive rebounds, but shot 11-31 in the second half, and allowed the Redhawks 49 points.
UT Martin at Tennessee State, 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: TSU 67, UTM 64
After winning 4 straight games, the Skyhawks defense fell apart against Peay and Murray; A pain Tennessee State, once 2nd in the OVC, now losers of 3 straight, knows too well. Martin is still a game out of the 8th and final OVC tournament spot, the Tigers have fallen to 5th, one game out of the final tournament bye. Tigers forward Robert Covington came up with a huge double-double in their last meeting, with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Eastern Kentucky at Jacksonville State, 4:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: JSU 61, EKU 64
So when I first opened up Eastern Kentucky’s game notes, the following stat was the first one listed on the first page:
Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State have the two lowest rebounding margins in the conference – EKU (-3.0) and JSU (-2.7). The Colonels outrebounded Jacksonville State, 30-28, in Eastern’s 64-61 win on Jan. 6.
Not really the most positive thing to lead off your game notes with…The Colonels OVC championship hopes might have been given a TKO in their loss to Tech on Thursday, but a bye may still very well be in their grasp. Jacksonville state has finally got out of the win less column, and almost stole a game from Morehead Thursday. As for the history between these two: Eastern has lost the last 5 trips to Jacksonville. (That was the 2nd thing listed in their game notes…)