For four teams, the road ends today. We already know two teams who will be playing their last games of the season on this Saturday, but by the end of the night two others will join them.
But all in all, there’s not a lot of drama on the slate today. Not only are six teams safely in the OVC Tournament, we already know their seeds. And the result of one game could render the rest mute.
Of course, to the four teams fighting, and hoping for one of the final two spots in the tournament, there’s plenty to get excited about.
Game of the Day
SIU Edwardsville 9-17 (5-10) at Eastern Illinois 10-20 (5-10)
4:00 p.m. CST
Let’s begin with what this game means. The winner is in next week’s OVC Tournament. If Eastern Illinois wins, UT Martin will join them regardless of the outcome of the rest of the games. If SIUE wins, then EIU become big fans of Austin Peay and Morehead State, as both must win to put the Panthers in the tournament.
In these teams first meeting in Edwardsville nearly one month ago, Eastern Illinois controlled the tempo, but SIUE came out with a 49-45 win, as both teams shot just 36% on the night. Since that game, the teams have gone in different directions. The Cougars have lost six of seven, their only win being the huge upset of Murray State. EIU is 4-3, winners of their last two games, although both of those came out of conference.
Outside of the low score, what was remarkable about these teams first matchup was how few turnovers there were, and how poorly Eastern Illinois shot from the free throw line, (4-11) and from 3-point range. (Just 1-17) While another low scoring game is definitely a possibility, Eastern Illinois offense has played much better down the stretch, and I would be immensely surprised if SIUE can hold the Panthers under 50 points again.
Of course, the Cougars have also shown more offensive prowess in the past few weeks, breaking 70 in three of their last four. Kris Davis has been key to that surge, averaging 15-points a game over the past eight contests. We’ve seen good nights lately from Mark Yelovich and Michael Messer as well, but both combined for just four points in a 30-point loss Wednesday at Belmont.
Sherman Blandford has been a terrific force inside for the Panthers during their stretch run, averaging 12 points and nine rebounds in their last 11 games. We’ve also seen quite a few big performances from Morris Woods, who is shooting 57% over the last nine contests, and over 15 points a game during the same stretch. The Panthers don’t get a lot of scoring production from the backcourt, but they have a great point guard in Austin Akers whose assist to turnover ratio is 2.8 for the season.
SIUE is looking to make their first OVC Tournament in their first eligible season. EIU hasn’t gone since the 2009-10 season. One of their frustrations will end today.
Eastern Kentucky 23-7 (12-3) at Tennessee State 16-13 (10-5)
7:30 p.m. CST
This game is important for two reasons. First, this is a matchup of two contenders, both looking for some momentum heading into the OVC Tournament. For Eastern Kentucky, they have a chance to win a share of the OVC title for the first time since 1979 if Belmont trips up earlier in the day to Jacksonville State.
EKU mostly dominated their first matchup, shooting 56% from the floor, and the Tigers are coming off one of their worst defensive performances of the year, allowing 101 points in regulation to Morehead State. You could also argue it was one of their best offensive performances as well, scoring 100 in the loss, but the Tigers shot just 46% from the field and were boosted thanks to 38 free throw attempts.
UT Martin 9-19 (5-10) at Austin Peay 7-23 (3-12)
7:30 p.m. CST
Thanks to a historic win at Murray State on Thursday, UT Martin controls their destiny. A win, they’re in. They’re also in with an Eastern Illinois win, regardless their outcome. Austin Peay may be hoping for an end to what has been another absolute nightmare of a season, this worse than the last.
Mike Liabo, who has been one of the most up and down players on any team over the past two season, has strung together eight straight double-digit scoring performances, including 20 points on Thursday against Murray. They’ll need a big night from the guard, as well as forward Myles Taylor. The Skyhawks go to player has dealt with immense foul trouble as of late, fouling out of four of UTM’s last six contests.
The first contest was nearly two months away, and was one of many close losses that have gone against the Governors this season.
Morehead State 14-16 (8-7) at Tennessee Tech 11-17 (4-11)
7:30 p.m. CST
Tennessee Tech has a slim window to get into the tournament, and it starts with beating Morehead State. They also need SIUE to beat EIU, and for Austin Peay to beat UT Martin. Given the scenarios, the Golden Eagles may, or may not know their fate before tipoff.
Morehead State just edged Tennessee Tech two weeks ago, as the Eagles forced 19 turnovers, and won despite a 19-shot disparity at the free-throw line. TTU’s Jud Dillard finished with a double-double, and Morehead’s Chad Posthumus was just one rebound from matching the feat.
The Eagles don’t have anything to play for, and I’m virtually certain no team could use some rest more. The 101-100 thriller on Thursday was the first game since these teams first met that didn’t go into overtime. But a loss brings in the possibility of a rematch in the first round on Tuesday, if Tennessee Tech can secure the 8-seed.
Jacksonville State 17-10 (8-7) at Belmont 23-6 (13-2)
Noon CST – ESPNU
ESPNU is getting me out of bed early on Saturday. JSU’s season is over after today thanks to their APR suspension from postseason play. A Belmont win is somewhat important to the Bruins. They may be on the cusp of an at-large, but a loss before the OVC Tournament finals would almost certainly end that chance. And a Bruins win would make them sole conference champions.
These teams haven’t met since the first game of the conference season, as Belmont won their first of 10 straight games against OVC opponents. Surprisingly enough, the Gamecocks held the Bruins to 73 points, their second lowest scoring output in conference play this season, although Belmont matched that output on Thursday in a 30-point win over SIUE.
The Bruins stumbled during February on two road trips, but have a chance to close out the season perfect at home. Since their loss at Tennessee State, Belmont has been dominant, winning their last three games by an average of 26 points.
Southeast Missouri 15-15 (7-8) at Murray State 20-8 (10-5)
7:30 p.m. CST
Southeast Missouri hasn’t won in Murray since 2007, but the Racers have been in a giving mood lately, losing three of their last five in the very definition of stumbling to the finish. Their last matchup was a classic Murray State game this year: the Racers trailed early, and rallied late for a win. The problem is lately, they haven’t been able to cap off all of those late game surges.
SEMO is coming off a record night, 20 three-pointers against Austin Peay. While matching that number is unlikely, the Redhawks are 8th in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, hitting 41% from behind the arc as a team. The Redhawks have had little problem getting their points, but stopping their opponents has been a major problem.
Isaiah Canaan seems to be over his slump at just the right time for Murray, as the senior is coming off a 31-point night, and closing in on 2,000 career points.