So, who’s up for Murray State – Belmont round two in Nashville? While I’m sure some other teams have something to say about it, let’s be honest here: last night was about as entertaining as basketball gets.
At least, as entertaining a game as we’ve had since Murray State – Austin Peay less than a week ago.
UT Martin 79, Eastern Illinois 91
Looking at the final score, you could be excused for not knowing that the Skyhawks took a 10-point lead into the half on the road. then, the sky fell in. Eastern Illinois scores 54 second-half points, led by a 30-point performance by Sherman Blandford. They get the win without leading scorer Reggie Smith, who was out with an illness. Junior Dylan Champan nearly triples his season average in points as the Panthers shoot 56% from the field. Myles Taylor led UTM with 17 points, as the situation gets a bit more dire for the Skyhawks chances of heading back to Nashville in March.
Austin Peay 75, Tennessee State 65
This nearly turned bad in a big way for the Governors. Austin Peay jumped out to 30-7 lead in the first half, but struggled to close out the 3-22 Tigers. TSU shoots just 37% from the floor, 17% from behind the arc in the loss. Travis Betran and Ed Dyson both break the 20-point barrier (although Dyson needed just 8 attempts from the field compared to Betran’s 16) and the Governors have another poor night from the charity stripe, hitting 55%. Austin Peay moves to 4-5, tied for 7th in the conference. At 2-9 in the OVC, Tennessee State’s slim dreams of making it to Nashville look all but extinguished.
Southeast Missouri 88, SIU Edwardsville 93 OT
Tyler Stone goes for 38 points, but SEMO falls to 3-7 in conference play after an overtime loss on the road. SEMO had their chances to put the game away in regulation: the Redhawks led by three with 41-seconds to go, only for Kris Davis to hit a three to tie things up. Stone responded with a layup to put the SEMO up two with 12 seconds to go, but allow a Keaton Jackson layup with :00.6, leading to OT. SIUE hit 13-three’s in the win. Cool stat: Both team’s point guards, Lucas Nutt and Donivine Stewart finished with double-doubles.
Murray State 96, Belmont 99
This was simply a wild one. Belmont jumps out to an early lead, only to see Murray State erase it before they half. The Bruins jump out again to a double-digit lead, only to watch the Racers try to charge back once again. Cameron Payne led the Racers with 29-points, but three Bruins, Craig Bradshaw, JJ Mann, and Blake Jenkins all his the 20-point mark. There was some controversy down the stretch, which led to a rare technical against Murray State head coach Steve Prohm. Belmont takes over the lead in the conference, now holding the tiebreaker over the Racers. Murray State is still 2.5 games clear of Eastern Illinois for the double-bye out of the West.
Player of the Night: JJ Mann, Belmont. I’m not going to lie, this is a tough one. But the Bruins guard came up in a big way last night, shooting 6-8 from the field, hitting 11-12 from the charity stripe, and was just one rebound short of a double-double. He’ll likely need that kind of performance again if the Bruins and Racers meet in March.
Player of the Night in a loss: Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri. Just a monster night from the OVC preseason player of the year, but again it comes down to defense with the Redhawks.
Unsung Hero: Keaton Jackson, SIUE. Another tough one. 16 points off the bench, without taking a single three-pointer. He also hit the game tying shot with under a second to play.
Teams Trending Upwards: The top three in the West. Even with the loss, Murray showed they’re as good as anyone in the OVC, and that March will be quite fun. EIU and SIUE got solid wins that could help cement their place in Nashville.
Teams Trending Downwards: The bottom two in the West. SEMO needs a rally in the worst way, but I’m just not sure if they’ve got it in them. UTM’s margin for error is officially zero from this point on.