The line between the fourth and fifth seed in the Ohio Valley Conference has been very important. In the old days, that was the line between having a home tournament game, or having to travel for the first round.
In the new tournament format, it’s the difference in how many tournament games you have to win. Three, or four.
When it comes to what’s at stake today for Morehead State, it’s very clear. A win puts you, at worse, one game back of a top four seed. A loss could put you two back. And currently, EKU holds a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Jacksonville State is just playing to play, and it’s seemed to work for them for most of the year. Postseason ban or not, the Gamecocks are as competitive as they’ve ever been since joining the Ohio Valley Conference. If they’re reduced to spoiler, they’ve been doing a pretty good job of it all season long.
The Eagles performance at Belmont was underwhelming to say the least, given how well they matched up with the Bruins a week ago at Morehead. But struggling on the road isn’t anything new for the Eagles. Sean Woods’ team is just 2-9 in true roads games, including a loss at otherwise winless in the conference Austin Peay.
That wasn’t the only thing we saw repeat itself on Thursday. The Eagles turned the ball over 23 times, and committed 31 fouls, allowing Belmont to shoot 43 free throws on the night. The fact that the Eagles won the battle of the glass was far from enough to keep Morehead State in the game, despite holding the Bruins to just six three-point field goals.
The biggest thing here is that these issues aren’t new. Anything but. In fact, if you go back through game previews and recaps on this site about the Eagles, you’ll see those exact problems, and the same praise mentioned throughout. They’re incredibly consistent as a team, which is to say they continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over.
The Gamecocks expelled one of their demons a week ago, earning their first ever win over the Murray State Racers, something that has eluded Jacksonville State since joining the conference. Now their attention turns to another demon: the team that knocked them out of last year’s OVC Tournament.
What’s really key for the Gamecocks is controlling tempo. Morehead State likes to force turnovers, but Jacksonville State has been the stingiest team in conference play this season. That’s even been the case in their losses, with just 19 combined turnovers against Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State. As mentioned above, that’s fewer than Morehead State had on Thursday alone.
Rebounding continues to the Gamecocks biggest issue, and there’s little reason to believe that changes before the end of the year.
Jacksonville State hasn’t lost a game against a team outside the RPI top-100, a combined 11-0 against Division I teams with a higher rank.