Last season, the OVC was, for lack of a better word, screwy. By and far favorites Morehead State and Murray State struggled, causing an absolute log jam at the top of the standings that wasn’t sorted until the final week.
We might be heading there again this season: the teams picked to finish 1-2 in the conference, are 0-1 to start off OVC play.
And one of them just gave the Cougars their first ever conference win.
But Tennessee Martin brought some sanity to the night, first getting a nice lead over Tennessee State, and then doing what they’ve done all season: fall apart.
Here’s tonight’s Final Word.
[Austin Peay 65, Eastern Kentucky 67] I’ve been preaching patience all season with the Governors. They had injuries, they’ve played a tough schedule, and maybe preseason expectations were just too high.
But now, I’m starting to get worried. And I bet Austin Peay fans are too.
Sure, a lot of good teams lose in McBrayer Arena. But with OVC play underway, the time for excuses is over. Now, wins matter. And Austin Peay didn’t get one tonight. With every loss, bouncing back will only get that much harder.
And here’s what concerns me about this loss: EKU hit just 20.8% from 3-point range. That their bread-and-butter, yet they still won. EKU even only shot 60.8% from the FT line. But they still won.
I said in the First Word this morning turnovers were key to speeding up the Colonels. Not only did they only force 8, they coughed up the ball 17 times. The most troubling thing about this loss: The Governors blew an 11-point 2nd half lead. Looking at this team so far this season, I’m not seeing the mental toughness you expect from a Dave Loos coached team.
And now, the Governors fall to 3-11. And more importantly, 0-1 in the OVC.
For the Colonels, another great night from Jaron Jones, who continues to separate himself as the leader of this team. One thing that continues to be a problem, that showed itself again tonight: The Colonels were outrebounded 41-27.
Which leads me to a few observations / notes about Tennessee Tech.
First, Tennessee Tech needs Murphy and Jud Dillard to score. Those 2 players are great, but the problem is that when they have a bad night, no one steps up. I thought Zac Swansey could be that player this year, but while he’s a great point guard, he’s not an effective scorer.
Second, why was he still shooting? At, I dunno, 1-10, he should have realized it wasn’t his night, and looked to get other players involved. Yes, I get he’s the team’s leading scorer, but this just goes back to point number 1. Someone has to be there to help.
On the flip side, what a game from Jerome Jones, who hits 8-11 from the field finishing with a team high 20 points. Mark Yelovich finishes with a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) and despite poor shooting, Corey Wickware finishes just one assist away from a double double (12 points, 9 assists)
This is a huge, huge win for the Cougars. And because of that, I’ll hold off on raining on their parade until my First Word Saturday when they face Jacksonville State. (Sorry guys, there’s a few things about this win that worry me going forward)
[UT Martin 67 , Tennessee State 83] If you blame UTM’s defense for tonight loss, you’re correct. If you blame UTM’s offense for tonight’s loss, you’re also correct, although to a slightly lesser extent.
And this pretty well sums up the Skyhawks so far this season.
Tennessee State hits over 56% from the floor,and overcome a double-digit first half deficit, on their way to their 6th straight win, and more importantly, proving my pick of the Tigers as the OVC “dark horse” correctly.
And Kenny Moore is back for the Tigers. He added 6 points in 15 minutes in his first game in over a month after being suspended indefinitely.
For UT Martin, it really is the same story all over again. Mike Liabo leads the team in scoring despite poor shooting, Myles Taylor and Troy King chip in some scoring, and the Skyhawks lose. But there are some small changes in the usual script: Liabo added 6 assists to his 13 points, his highest total all season. Dane Smith also got into double digit scoring for only the 4th time this year.
The key to Jacksonville winning all season long has been clear: play great defense, stay in games, and score just enough points to win. When the defense fails, the Gamecocks just don’t have the offense to keep up.
Tonight was another example of that very point in action.
Tarvin Gaines didn’t get the start in this one, likely a move to preserve some legs for Saturday night OVC matchup, which will be the Gamecocks 3rd game in just 4 days. He still manages a team high 15 points off the bench.
It was a rare bad game for the Gamecocks defense, who allowed the Rams to shoot 60% from the field, but still hold the Colorado State to just 2-8 shooting from behind the arc. (Where Jacksonville St.’s defense has been especially good this season, and where SIU Edwardsville will look to make their points on Saturday)