When it comes to rivalry matchups, there are no moral victories. There are no “we’ll get them next time.” There’s a winner, and a loser.
Today, that winner was Morehead State. The Eagles avenged a narrow loss on their home floor earlier in the season, topping Eastern Kentucky 86-79 in a morning tip in Richmond. Angelo Warner scored a career high 33 points for the Eagles in the win, hitting 10-15 from the field and shooting a perfect 10-10 from the free-throw line.
In the end, this win might not have a major impact on the standings. Both teams are likely going to get single-byes in Nashville, and have to face either Murray State or Belmont if they can advance to the semi’s.
But if you’re a Morehead State fan, you can take away much more from today than just “we beat our rivals.” When you look at how they did it, you come to a realization:
This team can play even better.
There are a lot of things Morehead State did extremely well to win: The Eagles, a team that has notoriously struggled with their half-court offense, shot 58% from the field, despite forcing just eight turnovers. They dominated the boards, outrebounding Eastern Kentucky 35-20. Morehead State hit 41% from behind the arc, and 80% from the free-throw line.
But it was far from a perfect performance. Turnovers once again reared their ugly head, 16 on the game. The end-game execution wasn’t great, opening a window for EKU to attempt a comeback. (Among the notable moments…and undefended player having a pass picked off in the backcourt. A off-ball foul up seven with :10 to play.) Brent Arrington got into early foul trouble, eventually fouling out, and the Colonels got to the free-throw line with relative ease.
And then there’s the players themselves. Billy Reader is playing with a banged up shoulder. Kareem Story played limited minutes in his first game back from injury.
There’s still a lot of room for improvement with this Eagles team. And that’s a scary notion, given where they are in the conference standings.
Morehead State’s three losses are all against top-4 teams in the conference: two against Belmont, and one against EKU. They survived the Illinois road-trip to start off conference play, and have avoided a “bad” conference loss, something the Bruins and Colonels can’t claim.
This is a team that features sure all-OVC selections in Drew Kelly and Warner, play a style of defense that can be difficult to adjust to, and gets to the free-throw line better than any other team in the conference. No team is better on the boards, and few can really challenge the Eagles in the paint.
Up to this point, the knock on this Morehead State team was that they hadn’t really beaten anyone.
Now that have. And now it’s time to really start paying attention to the Eagles.