Oh, Morehead. This whole season, we’ve been talking about how you needed that one big win, to really send a message to the OVC that you’re a contender. And you lead Belmont for about 39:47 seconds…just not the last 13. I’ve seen a lot of college basketball collapses in my day, and while this is far from the worst, it’s up there.
And here’s the thing; they did this to themselves. Missed free-throws, five turnovers, including one where the ball is just taken from an exasperated Luka Pajkovic at mid court, (more on him in a moment) as the Bruins close the game on a 10-0 run to take their first, and only lead of the basketball game. Belmont made plays, yes, but even they missed key free-throws. This falls more on the Eagles.
The Eagles did so many things well, that are great signs for a potential third meeting in Nashville: They rebounded the ball, (as they do) they kept the Bruins off the three-point line, (relatively) scored in the half-court, and hit three’s. They did turn the ball over far too often, fouled too often, and their pressure couldn’t force turnovers, but they had the lead. And held it. Right up until the end.
Even Belmont head coach Rick Byrd said the Eagles probably deserved to win that game.
That being said, I feel horrible for Pajkovic. The Mississippi Valley State transfer isn’t Sean Woods first choice at point (but had to play extended minutes thanks to injuries) and had about as terrible a final two minutes as is humanly possible. Two of those missed free-throws? Pajkovic. Two of those turnovers? Pajkovic. I don’t want to pile it on the kid, but I can’t imagine how badly he’s feeling this morning.
On that note, if you see Pajkovic, in real life or on twitter, now would be a good time as a Morehead State fan to give him a virtual pat-on-the-back. You may need him down the stretch, and there’s no need to pile it on. He knows what happened at the end of that game.
After last night’s 91-81 win over UMKC, KFVS sports anchor Josh Frydman tweeted that it was encouraging that Southeast Missouri showed last night they can score without Jarekious Bradley, who didn’t play more than a couple minutes due to injury. (Why did he play at all? It’s a meaningless January non-conference game. If he wasn’t 100%, the risk is much greater than the reward. Which is nothing. There is no reward.) Six players scored in double figures, as SEMO shot 58% from the floor in the win. Their defense, a constant point of scrutiny, held UMKC to 38% from the floor.
Yet, the Redhawks only won by 10. How does that happen? If you said free-throws, you’re partially correct. If you said three-pointers, you’ve completed the puzzle. Holding a team to 38% from the floor is great. Allowing a team to shoot 39% from three-point range isn’t. (Yes, UMKC shot better from behind the arc from inside it.)
The backcourt has been the weakness of SEMO’s defense for at least three years now, ever since we started this site. The problem with that: the OVC has been historically guard-heavy. It’s much easier to find quality, smaller players to come to the OVC than dominant bigs. While their frontcourt remains one of the best in the league, (although it’s been a bit dinged this year) smaller teams continue to cause trouble for the Redhawks defense, mainly because they keep it as far away from the paint as possible. It’s neutralizing the team’s strength, and playing on it’s weakness.
This is where that pithy saying “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” comes in.
One final note on this game, congratulations to Lucas Nutt for becoming the Redhawks all-time assist leader.
Tonight is Tennessee State’s last stand. A loss, and they fall to 1-9. If, by some miracle, they won out, they’d be 7-9, which is going to be borderline to make the OVC Tournament.
UT Martin is in a similar situation at 2-6 in conference, although they still have a little wiggle room to make a run at 8-8, which is safely in. Both teams are road underdogs tonight, but both are getting close, if not in, must-win situations.
Tennessee Tech, while far from must win, can’t suffer a letdown tonight. They’re coming off a disappointing road trip, and the Tigers have shown they can be dangerous as of late. A loss here, and TTU could be in a tailspin at a critical part of the season.