No matter who wins today, they will make history.
For UT Martin, it’s program-making history. Before today, the Skyhawks had never made an OVC Tournament championship today. They’ve never danced in the NCAA Tournament since joining Division I athletics in 1992.
For Austin Peay, it’s Ohio Valley Conference history. Since going to an eight team tournament in 1997, no eight seed had ever made the finals before this year’s Governors — and before that, no bottom seed had ever made Now, they look to become the lowest seed to ever go dancing, and the first team to win four games in four days in the new tournament structure.
Every championship game is big.
…but few have this kind of implications.
In a year that the East Division reigned, Austin Peay and UT Martin have proven just how much parity the league truly had this season. Belmont, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Morehead State all had better conference records than the two teams playing for it all today.
And they all lost to one of those two teams — the first three to the Governors, and the final one to the Skyhawks.
At the end of the day, only one history can be written. Only one team can triumph.
We’re 40 minutes away from a new chapter, in ever-unwraveling history of a great basketball conference.
Every time you’re playing a game against a team with more rest, the question always arises: Do you have enough in the tank? Austin Peay has played 125 minutes of basketball over the past three days, and Belmont last night tasked the Governors in an up-tempo, full-court affait.
…and Austin Peay seemed to only get stronger as the game went on.
At this point, trying to write off the Governors as being ‘tired’ is beyond foolhardy. We’ve seen teams in different conferences make similar runs before: In 2008, Georgia was forced to play two games in the same day after a tornado damaged the Georgia Dome, on their road to four straight win in the SEC championship. In 2011, UCONN won five games in five days to win the Big East.
There’s no reason Austin Peay can’t win this championship.
Picking out which Governors belong on the all-tournament team will be a challenge today. Chris Horton will likely break the OVC Tournament scoring record today, and could be my pick for MVP even if the Governors lose today. Freshman Jared Savage has hit big three after big three for the Governors, and along with Josh Robinson has anchored the oft-maligned Governors backcourt.
This team seems to feed off the negativity, off being written off round after round by people outside Clarksville.
Late in last night’s win, Austin Peay’s pep band started playing “Don’t Stop Believing”
If that’s not a motto for this team, I don’t know what it is.
UT Martin’s defense last night suffocated Morehead State. The Eagles had no success on the inside, and didn’t have the firepower outside to compensate. But stopping Chris Horton, especialy the way he’s played the last three days, will be a big challenge.
…especially if Austin Peay’s guards keep making big shots.
Head coach Heath Schroyer says one of the biggest differences between the first and second half last night, aside from turnovers, was the Skyhawks rebounding. One night after the Eagles sank the Racers on the strength of their offensive rebounding, Morehead State was held to 13 offensive rebounds off 45 misses — 27.6%. For Morehead State, that’s a massive win. Horton is coming off a 10-offensive rebound night himself, so the Skyhawks will need a similar effort to keep Austin Peay off the glass.
When the offense is clicking, UT Martin is hard to stop. But the Skyhawks have to continue to practice patience on that end of the floor. When their offense is not clicking, far too often there’s a lack of ball movement, and poor shot selection.
Austin Peay’s fan section has been growing by the day. UT Martin needs their fans to show up in droves today.
After all, a championship is on the line.