Steve Prohm is not over Selection Sunday, and who can blame him. He’s also not over his sophomore point guard being left off the most recent Bob Cousy award list, or losing to Belmont in the OVC Tournament championship just over two weeks ago.
…or losing to Belmont in the OVC Tournament championship three years ago. Or that time in 1984 where he missed a game-winning shot against his best buds in the park.
I may have made that last one up. I feel pretty confident about it, though.
After six minutes of compliments about how well his team played in an opening round NIT win over UTEP, mixed in with a few jabs at those who had wronged him, it was Prohm’s “drop the mic” moment that brought me to laughter. As Prohm was getting up after the last question, but still while leaning over the mic, Prohm said one thing before strolling out of the room.
“OVC went 3-0 tonight.”
That they did. Corey Walden had a..well, Walden-like performance, scoring 22 points on 7-11 shooting, to lead EKU past Norfolk State and Eastern Illinois scored a season-high 97 points (their previous season-high was 84) behind 15 three-pointers in a win at Oakland, a team that finished 11-5 in the Horizon league.
It wasn’t just that Prohm ended his press conference taking up his cloak as Mr. OVC, it brought the press conference full circle. His opening thought after the win:
“That was fun. This is a great win, it’s a great win, first off, for the conference. The conference needed this. This was great. This was a great win for our conference. We needed it.”
Prohm’s championing of the conference has been well documented, at least here, throughout the season, and honestly even before the season began. But the OVC didn’t need this win, because the OVC wasn’t on trial last week.
Murray State was.
Some of this may be the soothing of ego’s: Murray State fans weren’t just taking on the world last week, they were taking on their conference, and it’s commissioner. But at the end of the day, this win was great for Murray State. While it can’t unwrite what the selection committee did, it put to rest the thoughts of doubters, at least for a few days, that the Racers weren’t good enough for the big dance. They may not have had the resume, but there’s little doubt, among anyone who watched their win over UTEP, that the Racers wouldn’t belong, wouldn’t hang with the Indiana’s or the BYU’s of the NCAA Tournament.
I have no issues with Prohm championing the conference. The league, especially at the top, is better than the numbers show. (Partially because they make zero attempt, as a whole, at manipulating the numbers, like teams in bigger mid-major leagues do.) And, let’s be honest, a better OVC benefits Murray State, one of the teams with the deepest history in it.
But the NIT isn’t about the conference.
It’s about Murray State. It’s about Cameron Payne and Jarvis Williams, about T.J. Sapp nailing huge three’s, and Jonathan Fairell being a defensive enforcer inside. It’s about the alley oops, the ankle-breaking moves, and no-look passes, the Sportscenter top-10 plays.
It’s about Steve Prohm, a coach whose on at least one major’s programs radar.
…and it’s okay to be a little selfish about it. Because this team has earned it. This team has won 28 games. This team is two wins away from New York. A good Murray State is good for the conference. As is a good Morehead State, a good SIUE, a good Jacksonville State, a good EKU…every team being good benefits the OVC equally.
The OVC went 3-0.
Murray went 1-0.
It’s okay to focus on the second one of those in March.
In fact, I’d love nothing more than to see Prohm do that. Because the whole of the OVC should never be on one teams’ shoulders. It’s not Murray’s responsibility to bring up the conference, nor is it Belmont’s, or Eastern Illinois. Every team has to be in it together. If the Racers snub this year, their mind-boggling three-seed in the NIT taught us anything, it’s that you can’t simply yell from the mountain tops that the OVC is good.
You have to prove it.
This summer presents a cross-roads for the conference. The OVC is as good as it’s ever been, sure — but it’s still a one-bid conference for a 27-win team. Is that okay? Are the leaders of the league simply willing to shrug their shoulders and go ‘maybe someone will win 28 next year?’ There’s no rule they can put into place this year to fix everything, but are they willing to try?
But, right now, that’s not Murray State’s responsibility. Now’s the time for the Racers, and for Prohm to just enjoy the rest of their journey. Enjoy last night, enjoy Tulsa, and if they make it far enough, enjoy New York.
We can all worry about the rest of it later.
Eastern Illinois picks up first postseason win in school history: I said yesterday that the Panthers didn’t want to get into a shootout with high-scoring Oakland.
It was the most efficient night for the Panthers offense all season long, combined with their highest tempo all season long, that led to the 97-point explosion, and 55-point second half. Reggie Smith put up 26 points, Cornell Johnston dished out 11 assists, and as I mentioned earlier, EIU was 15-31 (48.4%) from three-point range to get the road win.
The Panthers won’t find out their second-round matchup until after tonight, (The CIT doesn’t use a bracket) but it really feels like momentum continues to build behind this program. They will graduate four seniors this year, but do bring back two key guys: Johnston and Chris Olivier. They’re more than capable of a deep run in this tournament, and could make a push to be in an even bigger tournament the next.
EKU advances, will play again at home Friday: We just don’t know who against, yet, but the school has confirmed another home matchup in the CIT for this Friday. Corey Walden was very good last night, as he has been all year, and Eric Stutz matched Walden’s scoring with 22 points of his own, and while it wasn’t the best night for the Colonels defense, they earned a solid win against a hot-shooting Norfolk State team. Ken Pom picked EKU to win the CIT, which would be a great sendoff to the Colonels two senior leaders.
What I really like to see from the Colonels, through, is the production of the younger guys. Timmy Knipp put up 13-points, hitting all three of his three-point attempts. Ja’Mill Powell went 4-6 from deep, notching 12 points. These guys will be the leaders next year, and seeing them produce is great for EKU’s future.