Let’s begin with the major controversy for last night: the calls down the stretch of the Murray State-Belmont game…well they weren’t great. I don’t think they were near as bad as some Murray State fans, but they weren’t amazing, and even the ESPNU commentators seemed to feel that way as well.
I am stopping well short of saying the calls cost Murray State the game. When you give up 96 points, you can’t blame the refs. You just simply can’t. The Racers defense didn’t play well, for the second straight game. Watching last night, I commented that the Racers offense and defense seemed to play at two different speeds: they could move the ball up-court in a hurry, but weren’t getting back with the same fervor. Belmont drove the lane, and used the baseline extremely well. We talked about it in yesterday’s First Word: Belmont’s vulnerable when they’re shooting under 45%, because their defense isn’t exactly lock-down. They were well above that mark against Murray.
All that being said, Murray State played an amazing game; Belmont just played a bit better. If we get a second matchup in Nashville, I can’t imagine it being much tighter. This was a great display for the OVC on national television.
BTW, the dunk in the photo above? Here’s the video.
I’m not sure how many people actually watched it, but SEMO and SIUE was another amazing battle last night. Both teams hit clutch shots in the final minute, sending this one to overtime, where the Cougars score 14 points in five minutes to move back to .500 in the conference.
I think it’s safe to say that SIUE’s conference record isn’t a fluke. The win over Murray State raised eyebrows, but there still weren’t a lot of believers outside the immediate vicinity of Edwardsville. I think we may need to start paying attentions. SIUE has some solid three-point shooters, is locking down guards in conference play, and they’ve been in nearly every game in conference play.
Here’s the silver lining for SEMO: 7-9 is still the expected record for the eight seed. With their remaining schedule, 4-2 down the stretch is doable. Easy? No. Possible? Yes. I don’t think they can lose Saturday, and expect to rally at the end.
Eastern Illinois is still second in the West, and I’m still not sure if anyone is really paying attention. They solidly beat UT Martin without their leading scorer last night, and got an amazing performance from Sherman Blanford. If you’re in the market for an OVC Tournament sleeper, don’t overlook EIU.
On that note, feel free to overlook Austin Peay. This is a team with talent, that doesn’t do the small things well. Free-throw shooting? Not good. Rebounding? Inconsistent. They’re getting better in the turnover department, their frontcourt is solid, but I’m just not sold on this team in a tight game late. Can they put away an opponent when they need to? There’s still a few weeks, and the Governors could prove me wrong, but Austin Peay’s first focus has to be closing out the season strong to secure their spot in Nashville.