If the opening day of conference play taught us anything, it’s this: you cannot over-practice late-game situations. Two of the three games came down to the final minute, with both losing teams committing dire mistakes: Southeast Missouri failed to get a final shot off, and Tennessee Tech fouled with less than five seconds to go in a tie-game. The latter almost certainly cost TTU a chance at overtime, while the former would have been a 45-footer anyway.
But it’s a reminder just how close this league is on a daily basis. Even the teams we perceive to be the “top tier,” like Belmont, aren’t heads-and-shoulders over the rest of the league. More often than not, success in the OVC isn’t about what you do in the first 38 minutes, but what you can do in the final two.
But even the winners, Belmont and Eastern Illinois, weren’t without their mistakes. The Bruins committed five turnovers in the final 5:00, allowing SEMO to almost erase an eight-point deficit, and EIU’s Cornell Johnston missed an open shot in the final minute that I thought at the time would final blow to the Panthers.
This year, we’re starting a “late-game” tracker — team’s record in games within a bucket at any point in the final minute. I promise: the teams at the top of these standings will be the teams at the top of the OVC standings at the end of the year.
Here’s the early standings:
- Eastern Illinois (1-0)
- Belmont (1-0)
- Tennessee Tech (0-1)
- Southeast Missouri (0-1)
We see you SIUE: The Cougars opener was the one game that didn’t come down to the final minute, or the final half for that matter. SIUE held JSU to 22 points on 26% shooting in the first half, cruising to a 16-point win. SIUE has won four in a row, but we’re still a bit cautious on the team from Edwardsville: those four wins came against a non-DI, and three teams ranked 299th, 322nd, and 325th in the RPI as of Thursday, and we knew Jacksonville State’s 7-7 record was a bit inflated. One thing that has been impressive — JSU’s 57 points were the most any of those opponents scored in the recent streak. If the Cougars send TTU to 0-2 in the league on Saturday, then this streak becomes quite noteworthy.
I hate it when I’m right sometimes: Yesterday, I wrote that history shows TTU can’t win the OVC without the three. Yesterday was not a good start. The Golden Eagles were 3-15 from three-point range, and by my count missed at least five wide-open shots from deep. The bigger problem was, though, their front court, which I’ve praised all year, wasn’t all that good. Charles Jackson battled through foul trouble, and Dwan Caldwell was held to 5-13 shooting. The best forward on the floor yesterday was without a doubt EIU’s Chris Olivier, who hit 8-11 off the bench, finishing with a game-high 22 points. I usually want teams to put their best five in the starting lineups, but for some reason, Olivier is better off the bench. Maybe it’s a motivation thing?
There are two ways to look at SEMO’s loss: The glass half-full: when SEMO is on, they’re as good as any team in the league. Or the glass half-empty: even at their best, they still lost to the Bruins, and we haven’t seen SEMO “on” that much this year. I prefer the former. The Redhawks hit three’s, they hit free-throws, and forced turnovers, especially in the second-half. The defense, though, reverted to last year’s form, as Belmont hit 50% from the field, and 45% from deep. Part of the reason: SEMO tried to speed up Belmont. It mostly worked, to be honest, thanks to the aforementioned turnovers, and SEMO getting to the free-throw line.
The perfect photo: I don’t know where TTU got the photo they used for their game-story, and if was even from the game on Thursday, (almost certain it’s not) but it’s simply too perfect, given how the game ended:
Game I’m looking most forward to this weekend: Give me TTU at SIUE. Tech can’t afford to go 0-2 in the league, but the Cougars are playing as well as they have all year. Murray at Morehead is interesting, especially given the long road-trip and Morehead’s struggles, but if the Racers hit shots I don’t see the Eagles having the firepower to fight back.