The largest final margin of the day? Just 8 points, and that was in a game that went down to the final 2 minutes. In fact, every game today proved competitive, and the results created a log jam in the middle of the standings.
But we also have a clear top 2 teams, who have yet to meet this season.
Here’s tonight’s Final Word:
[Tennessee Tech 74, No. 15/14 Murray State 82] Apparently the referees were aware this was a TV game, as 5 players manage to foul out in a no-overtime, 40 minute game. I hope they enjoyed their TV time.
This shouldn’t have been a contest, but Murray State fell back into a dangerous trend from early in the season: giving up leads. The Racers got out to the quick start, and racked up a 17 point first half lead, only to watch Tennessee Tech cut it to 3 by halftime.
I think the Racers were forcing the 3-point shot some in this game (25 attempts) but when both of your starting forwards get into early foul trouble, it’s expected that your guards are going to take more long shots. There’s no doubt the guards shined tonight, but their forwards Ed Daniel and Latreze Mushatt didn’t show up in the scoring column, but combined for 8 offensive rebounds.
Yet they couldn’t keep Tennessee Tech off the offensive glass. The Golden Eagles pulled down 19 offensive rebounds, putting up 29 2nd chance points. Again, foul trouble, and Ivan Aska sitting out likely contributed, but overall it was a great effort on the boards from Tennessee Tech. Zac Swansey had some big buckets in the second half, but 7 turnovers (of 17 for the Golden Eagles) is simply way too many.
One final point: the Racers depth is in question, especially until Aska returns. Only 8 players earned minutes tonight, and 2 of them fouled out. Especially at the forward position, the Racers are a little thin right now. Thankfully for them, they don’t play SEMO until February 2nd.
[Eastern Kentucky 54, Morehead State 57] Remember when I said Eastern Kentucky was a team to beat in the OVC? Can I take that back? Now that the Colonels have hit the road, they’re looking more like the middle of the road OVC team I thought they’d be during the summer, not the frontrunners they appeared to be just a few weeks ago.
EKU hit just 13 field goals, shot just 31% from the field, and pulled down just 17 rebounds in the loss. The two biggest problems we’ve seen from EKU this season were clear tonight: they’re undersized, and they’re not great shooters. They did hit an impressive 20-23 (87%) from the free throw line, the biggest reason they were able to stay in the game.
And it’s not like Morehead State is a big team by any stretch of the imagination, but Morehead State pulled down double the rebounds of the Colonels. Drew Kelly went off for a career high 26 points, and freshman Angelo Warner added 11 in his 4th start of the season. Fewer turnovers, and maybe a few more 3’s, and the final probably would have looked much more impressive.
Oh, and I’ll go ahead and take my credit for calling a low-scoring game. (Because me saying the game going into the 90’s was clearly sarcasm)
[Jacksonville State 57, Austin Peay 60] If there were a “close but no cigar” award, it would go to Jacksonville State. A last second three to force overtime rims out, and the Gamecocks remain winless all time in Dunn Arena.
For the Gamecocks, it really just came down to not making enough shots. They hit just under 40% from the field, but once again played tough enough, and slowed down the game, to stay in the game and give themselves a chance.
Stephen Hall is definitely in the running for the most disappointing player of the year. Coming off the bench tonight, just 6 points on 1-7 shooting. But the good news for the Gamecocks: he’s the only senior graduating at the end of the year.
Austin Peay gets a very balanced performance from their starting 5, and found out just how tough the Jacksonville State defense is. But very importantly for the Governors right now, they get another win at home, move up to 2-3 in the conference, which puts them in the middle of a crowded group of OVC teams near .500.
Jacksonville State’s falling to 1-6 doesn’t bode well for their OVC tournament chances.
[Eastern Illinois 73, SEMO 80] So I got called out in today’s First Word for always complaining about either the forwards or the guards. Although I disagree with many of his points, I can say that tonight, I see no reason to complain about either. Except for whoever guarded* Jeremy Granger tonight.
*Clearly, no one did. But who ever was supposed to.
Granger gets his first ever 30 points game, (and an extra point, just because) hitting 10-16 from the field, and Joey Miller continues to be a consistent second scoring option, but it’s just not enough. Even winning the turnover battle 17-7, even with SEMO hitting 11-20 (55%) from the free-throw line, Eastern Illinois managed to give up 80 points, and falls on the road.
Other than the complaints already made, you can’t say much bad about SEMO’s offense, which has been the case for much of the year. Tonight, every one got their points, every one shot well, a good all-around offensive performance. Marland Smith got in a groove from deep, hitting 7-10 from 3-point range, clearly another example of great defending in this game. Leon Powell also seemed to bounce back, putting up a double-double, and staying out of foul trouble. The Redhawks are now all alone in 2nd, and if they can hold onto it, it means a double-bye and avoiding the Racers until the final.
[SIU Edwardsville 49, Tennessee State 52] Remember how I said that Tennessee State was the cure for offensive ills. Well, earlier in the season, SIU Edwardsville was the cure for team’s defensive ills, and tonight, the latter proved to be true.
The Cougars hit 7-17 from 3-point range, but just 33% from the field on the night, (9-31 from inside the arc, 29% if you’re counting) as the Cougars continue to prove that the 3-point shot is their only salvation on offense this year. (10-18 from the line doesn’t help either)
As for Tennessee State, finding their defense couldn’t have come at a better time, since this is their worst offensive performance of OVC play, hands down. 17 turnovers, 3-15 shooting from deep, and not getting to the free throw line all contributed to a big fall off for the Tigers scorers. But as always, Robert Covington gets his, scoring 17 points in the win.