If we learned anything on Day 1 it’s this: 10 point leads in the tournament aren’t safe. SEMO never relinquished the lead, but had to withstand a few flurries from EKU in the first game, and then Austin Peay watched a 10-point first half lead, and a 5-point lead in the last 5 minutes evaporate, as their season, which has been on a collision course all season, ends in a fiery crash to Jacksonville State.
Tonight, we could experience two games that are polar opposites. (4) Tennessee Tech and (5) SEMO could start off the night with a spectacular offensive show, while (3) Morehead State and (7) Jacksonville State promises to be a defensive battle.
Here’s previews for tonight’s OVC Quarterfinals:
Season Matchup: SEMO 62, @Tennessee Tech 77
How They Got Here: The first time these teams met, SEMO was looking for a big win to put their stamp on a possible 2-seed near the halfway point of conference play. Instead, they were run out of Cookeville, a sign of things to come. SEMO struggled to finish out the season strong, losing 4 straight before heading to Nashville.
But in the first round, the Redhawks played about as well as we’ve seen all tournament. The guards handled the basketball well, the forwards were dominant, as SEMO never relinquished the lead in a wire-to-wire win over a struggling Eastern Kentucky squad to earn a birth in the OVC Semifinals.
They’ll face a team that was only a tiebreaker better in the standings, but likely much more disappointed with their end result. While SEMO is still a team on the rise, this was supposed to be Tech’s year, even under 1st year head coach Steve Payne. Instead, a team with 2 first-team all-OVC selections struggled to win the games most thought they should, just edging out the Redhawks for a bye.
And it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong, other than everywhere. It started with what was at the time an inexplicable and unexplainable loss to SIU Edwardsville in the first game of the conference season. Then the Golden Eagles pulled it together for the next few days…before losing at home to at the time 1-6 Jacksonville State. Just when it looked like the trains were back on the track, they then managed a loss against Eastern Illinois, who were 2-9 in the conference.
But this is a team that has proved on many occasions they are capable of playing with anyone, including 2 tight games with the top seeded Racers, a win over 2nd seed Tennessee State, and let’s not forget Kevin Murphy‘s 50 point explosion against SIU Edwardsville.
Whether that team shows up or not is anyone’s guess.
The Matchup: SEMO hasn’t exactly been known for their defensive prowess this season, and going up against Tennessee Tech’s offense didn’t do them any favors in their first matchup. The Golden Eagles shot 57% from the field behind 26 points from Murphy in a 15 point win for Tennessee Tech. And it wasn’t that SEMO was particular bad on offense: they only had 12 turnovers, and shot 48% from the field. But as simple math has taught us, 48 is less than 57.
And this matchup will likely play out much the same. Both these teams have been better on the offensive side, and it’s not out of the question that both teams can hit 50% from the field.
So what separated two similar, high-octane teams? Turnovers often, and that’s were SEMO needs to have the edge. Tennessee Tech was 10th in the conference with 14.6 turnovers, but were even with the Redhawks in the first game. SEMO’s guards need to force turnovers, because bluntly, it may be the only way they get stops on offense. But if Tennessee Tech holds on to the basketball, the could have a great chance of winning.
While Jud Dillard has seemingly been Mr. Consistent for the Golden Eagles, Kevin Murphy is the true x-factor. He can go for 30, or he can go cold and struggle to reach double digits. He’s not a player that looks to get to the rim too often, so if shots aren’t falling, he’s going to struggle. Zac Swansey is one of the, if not the best set-up man in the OVC, but when pressured, he doesn’t always make the best decisions, and will often have the “Brett Farve syndrome” and attempt to make a pass that just isn’t there. Outside of the obvious 3, Zach Bailey is capable of having good nights, and much like I said about EKU’s guards last night, needs to attack the basket early to see if he can draw a few fouls when SEMO’s bigs step over to help.
Speaking of SEMO’s bigs, Leon Powell and Tyler Stone played about as well as we’ve seen them play this season in the Redhawks opening round win. Both stayed out of foul trouble, and both pulled down double-doubles for the Redhawks. If they do that night in and night out, SEMO is a very dangerous team to play. The guards were solid as well, with Marland Smith scoring 20 points, including going 9-13 from the free throw stripe.
Take out his free throws, and the rest of the Redhawks shot just 8 of 20. It’s been the Achilles heel all season for SEMO, and it could be the reason the Redhawks get bounced.
Season Matchups: Morehead State 65, @Jacksonville State 55
Jacksonville State 69, @Morehead State 55
How they got here: Neither team could hold home court in this matchup, with both road teams coming out with big wins. But since that 2nd game, both teams have been hot: Jacksonville State winning 5 straight with their opening round win against Austin Peay, and the Eagles winning 4 of their last 5.
And honestly, neither team was supposed to be here.
Jacksonville State was picked to finish low in the conference, and while Morehead State was picked a bit higher despite the loss of Kenneth Faried, that was with a healthy Terrance Hill, not one that got injured in the first week of conference play. And even Jacksonville State’s low pick was with the addition of team only senior, and only player with 1+ year on the squad, Stephen Hall, not one that got kicked off the team in the middle of conference play.
But it doesn’t really matter what each team was supposed to do, it matters what they’ve both done. And what’s they’ve done is play some of the best defense in the conference, keeping them both in almost every game they played. And as we learned with the Gamecocks last night, anything can happen in the last 5 minutes of a close basketball game.
The Matchup: If this game is the lowest scoring game of the entire tournament, I would not be the least bit surprised. That’s not to say the game won’t be competitive, just that both teams would love nothing more than to hold their opponents in the 50’s, and both have defenses that are capable of accomplishing that goal.
But Jacksonville State’s defense has been a little less efficient as of late, but it’s seem to come at the benefit of their offense. In 4 of their first 6 conference games, Jacksonville State was held under 60 total points. In the 12 games since, it hasn’t happened. But the defense has hardly been bad: 3 of the last 4 Jacksonville State opponents have been held under 60 points. 2 of those 3 were held under 50.
Morehead State is coming off two impressive offensive performances as well, but they came against SIU Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois at home, so they should probably get asterisks. What’s impressive is that in the 6 game previous to those two, Morehead State was in the 50’s in all six. The impressive part: they went 4-2 over that stretch.
Neither team has the break out “star,” but what they do have are players who understand their role with the team, and can execute. That being said, Jacksonville State’s Brian Williams has been impressive of late, including putting up 18 points in the second half against Austin Peay in the first round. In fact, Williams has been held to single digit scoring just twice in OVC play, and both of those games came in the first half of the conference season. Ever since Hall’s exit, it’s been up to Tarvin Gains and Ronnie Boggs to make up for Hall rebounding, and both have responded in kind.
The biggest surprise for Morehead State in this run has to be the play of Drew Kelly. Kelly has scored in double digits in the 12 of the Eagles last 13 games (impressive given how few possessions he has to do it in) compared with just 3 10+ point performances when Hill was healthy. He’s also stepped up his rebounding as well, pulling down at least 5 rebounds in 12 games over the same stretch. The guard play has been a bit more inconsistent, as Ty Profitt and Marsell Holden have often struggled to score. They will hope to get a big game out of one or both of them.