OVC Ball Statbox
|28/67 (41.8%)||Field Goals||29/61 (47.5%)|
|17/45 (37.8%)||3-Point FG||8/23 (34.8%)|
|6/7 (85.7%)||Free Throws||23/33 (69.7%)|
|39 (12/27)||Rebounds (O/D)||37 (9/28)|
|14||2nd Chance Pts||6|
|8||Points off TO||19|
|22||Pts in the Paint||38|
Tempo Tracker (Possessions)
Tennessee Tech offense
You don’t need to look far in the past to see just how important individual and team matchups are in the Ohio Valley Conference. Last season was the ultimate reminder that the path to the NCAA tournament goes not through the regular season, but winning back-to-back (or possibly three or four in a row) in Nashville just about a month from now.
So, the fact that Belmont won’t enter the OVC Tournament with a perfect record (which no one expected) or that Tennessee Tech pulled off a season-defining win on their home floor are neither hugely important in their own right.
Yeah, I said it.
Belmont still holds a one-game lead over the Golden Eagles in the loss column for the double-bye in the East division, and there’s still another matchup between these two teams on the schedule. That game will determine whether TTU holds the tiebreaker over Belmont, and, likely, whether Tennessee Tech can win the East Division.
But that’s not to say Saturday’s game wasn’t important. It was.
…just not because of the result.
It’s important because Tennessee Tech just showed the OVC how you beat Belmont: You don’t have to match the Bruins behind the arc, (Belmont hit 17 three’s to TTU’s 8) but you have to score consistently throughout the game, and beat them up on the inside. Tech was able to consistently get the ball into the paint, and if they didn’t score, they often got to the free-throw line. In doing so, they avoided the scoring lapses that have killed similar upset bids by conference foes this year.
The free-throw disparity isn’t surprising, either. Belmont is third-worst in the league at getting to the free-throw line. TTU? The best in conference play.
It didn’t hurt that Belmont was 17-45 (37.8%) from behind the three-point arc, or that the Bruins turned the ball over 18 times (although turnovers have plagued Belmont in spurts this season) But the basic blueprint is there: attack the Bruins where they’re weakest, on the inside.
Tennessee Tech just showed the OVC how you beat Belmont
Here’s the thing, though: can any other team follow it?
There are few teams with the offense of a Tennessee Tech or Belmont. In conference play, both TTU and Belmont entered play on Saturday with an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) above 60%. The next best team? Eastern Kentucky at 54.9%. The Golden Eagles and Bruins offense, simply, is on a whole other level to the rest of the league. (EKU, in non-conference play, was shooting at a similar level, but their numbers in conference play have since fallen off.)
Stopping Belmont is, obviously, a tall order in and of itself, and there’s not a “complete” defense in the OVC. Most of the teams that keep teams to low shooting percentages (Morehead State, Murray State, SIUE, and Tennessee State, namely) struggle mightily in keeping opponents off the free-throw line. And with new rules impacting the number of turnovers, only two teams, Austin Peay and Murray State are forcing turnovers on more than 20% of their opponent’s possessions. Just four seasons ago, there were eight teams in that category.
The Bruins aren’t “world beaters” this season, but their mixture of three-point shooting and surprisingly strong defense in conference play is the reason they’re still leading the league after Saturday’s loss, on the road, to arguably the second-best team in the league.
But, Tennessee Tech’s win was far from a fluke. The Golden Eagles, with their own, more balanced, scoring mix, and stronger-than-average defense may be the only team that matches up well with the Bruins.
Tennessee Tech’s win was far from a fluke.
That doesn’t mean another team won’t beat Belmont, mind you.
There’s just no team with a better mix of talent to take it to the Bruins in March.