The simple math may disagree with this, but two teams were eliminated from OVC Tournament contention tonight. At least, there is not a reasonable argument I can make that puts them in the tournament, beyond extraordinary circumstances.
With that, it’s three teams for two spots, and that race has just gotten mighty interesting.
Last Night’s Scores
Tennessee Tech 91, UT Martin 83
The solution to a struggling offense? The OVC’s worst defense. Tennessee Tech shoots 57% from the floor, 11-21 from three-point range, as the Golden Eagles get their first win on the road against a West Division opponent this season. Tennessee Tech leads by as much as 15 in the second half, before holding off a late Skyhawks run. Jeremiah Samarrippas led TTU with 20 points and 10 assists, overcoming a career night from Dee Oldham. On the odd side of things, UTM forward Mike Liabo earned a technical foul from the bench, while verbally sparring with a referee. The loss moves UTM to 3-10 in the league. Anything short of a three-game sweep the next two weeks ends their season. Tennessee Tech’s seventh conference win moves them into the “lock” column.
Jacksonville State 70, Southeast Missouri 83
Jarekious Bradley wasn’t “doubtful” for long. The injured forward played 28 minutes, helping lead Southeast Missouri over Jacksonville State. Tyler Stone led the Redhawks with 28 points, edging out Darion Rackley‘s 27 for the game-high. Nino Johnson, who got his first start in nearly a month for the injured Bradley, had just his second double-digit rebound night of the season, pulling down a game-high 10 boards. (For reference, Johnson had 12 nights with 10+ rebounds as a sophomore) Jacksonville State struggled to score, shooting 37% from the field, and struggled to defend the Redhawks, who hit 57%. JSU earns their 10th conference loss, putting them deeper on the wrong side of the bubble. SEMO is now in a tie for eighth, with a date with Austin Peay, their co-8th place team, set for next Thursday.
Eastern Illinois 62, Belmont 83
The seniors helped lead the way on senior night, moving to an incredible 50-2 at the Curb Events center for their careers, as Belmont cruised past EIU. J.J. Mann scored a game high 21 points, as seniors Drew Windler and Blake Jenkins combined to shoot 11-15 from the field in the win. The Bruins, who led by six at the half, opened the second half on a 11-4 run, and were never threatened down the stretch. Sherman Blanford cooled off by his recent standards, but still led the Panthers with 15 points. EIU has just one game remaining, and could use a win to secure their trip to Nashville.
SIUE 61, Tennessee State 66
Despite no delay for the cross-town Bruins, a tornado warning led to a much longer halftime than expected at Tennessee State. The rest did the Tigers well. Patrick Miller led the way as expected with 23 points, but got help from M.J. Rhett and Chaed Wellian, as the Tigers earned just their fourth win of the year at the hands of the Cougars. SIUE, the league’s top three-point shooting team, hit just 3-14 from behind the arc, while the league’s top three-point defense allowed TSU to hit 8-21 from deep. Kris Davis hit 6-10 from the field, Keaton Jackson went 5-6 off the bench, while the rest of the team combined for 12-39 shooting. SIUE’s odds of getting a single bye are all but gone without quite a lot of help.
If The OVC Tournament Started Today
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Co-Player of the Night: Jeremiah Samarrippas, Tennessee Tech. In his four year career, tonight was just Samarrippas second ever double-double. His last? January 25th, 2012, while he was at SMU against Tulane.
Co-Player of the Night: Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri. 28 points, 9 rebounds, and most importantly, a win for the Redhawks, who are all of a sudden looking alive to at least make the OVC Tournament.
Player of the Night in a loss: Darion Rackey, Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks didn’t have the offense (or really the defense) to compete with Southeast Missouri tonight, but that doesn’t fall on Rackley’s shoulders. The junior guard took 14 free-throws, more than the rest of his team combined.
Unsung Hero: Terence Smith, UT Martin. I rarely give this to a player on a losing team, but the Skyhawks senior hit 13-14 from the free-throw line, managing 15 points despite shooting 1-8 from the field.
Teams Trending Upward: Tennessee Tech, Southeast Missouri. Tech is all but guaranteed a trip to nearby Nashville next month. Southeast Missouri, who has spent much more time outside the top-8 than in it this season, may just sneak their way in.
Teams Trending Downward: UT Martin, Jacksonville State. Both earned their 10th conference loss tonight, and it’s all but over for both teams.