Note: If there are OVC games on back-to-back days, we’ll use one post to recap games from the night before and preview the day ahead. When there’s a day in between OVC games, we’ll wrap with a standalone Final Word and preview with a standalone First Word.
If you didn’t believe the OVC was going through a youth revolution before, tonight’s best performances were full of freshman making their first collegiate appearance. Guys like Nick Mayo and Jonathan Stark are still the best in the league, but there are a handful of freshman looking to make waves this season.
Day 1 was mostly mixed for the conference. No really ‘bad’ losses, but lower tier teams struggled against high-major competition and two OVC teams just couldn’t hold on to leads on the road. Here’s what you need to know from opening night:
Eastern Kentucky 73, Rice 72. You never want to read too much into one game, but this is a good barometer for the Colonels to start the season. EKU was a slight favorite on the road and overcame an early deficit to get a good road win on opening night. Nick Mayo was solid, as expected, scoring 25 points on 8-15 shooting and pulling down a career-high 12 rebounds in the win. The other half of the Colonels dynamic duo wasn’t Asante Gist as expected but rather freshman Dedric Boyd who scored 22 points and hit three free-throws with five seconds remaining to seal the win for the Colonels.
The thing I like about this win the most is that it wasn’t an especially impressive offensive night for EKU. The Colonels shot just 39% from the field, 22% from three-point range but the Colonels made their free-throws, contained Rice defensively and edged the Owls on the boards. I have little doubt the offense will come. If the Colonels can consistently win without their offense at its peak? That could make for a dangerous team in the league.
UT Martin 91, Marshall 102, OT. At the end of the year this loss won’t mean much of anything, but UT Martin had a great chance to get a good win on the road. The Skyhawks dominated early, taking a 15-point lead into the half but struggled to keep Marshall off the free-throw line.
Here’s the positive though: We knew entering this year Matthew Butler was good, but the big question was about the supporting cast and whether Butler would have to do too much on his own. In a way, he tried to do just that; 20 shots from the field is less than ideal for Butler. But, FIU transfer Dominique Williams had quite a good night off the bench, hitting 10-12 from the field on his way to a team-high 25 points. If that’s a sign of things to come, that’s a great sign for the Skyhawks, who need to find that consistent second or third scorer. Another positive: there’s aren’t a lot of guys like Jon Elmore in the OVC, which is a good thing because the Skyhawks had no answer for him tonight.
It’s too early to get too concerned about UTM’s defense: Marshall is going to put up a lot of points against a lot of teams this year.
Belmont 82, Washington 86. This one will probably hurt a bit, because Belmont was in control of this game throughout the second half. The Bruins led by as much as nine and it wasn’t until a late run that Washington was able to take the lead away. Offensively, Belmont looks like, well, Belmont. Freshman Nick Hopkins stole the show, especially early, finishing with 22 points on 8-12 shooting. Amanze Egekeze had an efficient 17 points, Dylan Winder an efficient 18 points — the three-point shooting wasn’t stellar but that could just be opening night, or playing on the road, or just as off night. I wouldn’t get too concerned about that at this point.
Offensively, Belmont looks like, well, Belmont.
The defense, well…this wasn’t the best we’ve seen. Freshman Jaylen Nowell was outstanding for the Huskies and Washington basically ignored the three-point arc and did all their damage on the inside. I’m not sure that other OVC teams really have the talent to attack Belmont in the same way, so my overall concern level is low for now. The Bruins were on the wrong side of the free-throw equation (due in part to struggles defensively) but competitive on the boards. (In part due to the Huskies zone defense)
Overall, I’d be more encouraged about the Bruins play than worried. If they can continue playing at this level, Belmont will be competitive with everyone they face this season.
Morehead State 49, No. 17 Xavier 109. Xavier shot 76% from the field in the first half. Morehead State shot 26%. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ If you’re looking for a bright point, Jordan Walker did put up 18 points. (On 14 shots, though)
Missouri Baptist 69, Southeast Missouri 81. Denzel Mahoney‘s sophomore year begins with a game-high 21 points on 5-9 shooting (and a perfect 11-11 night from the free-throw line. SEMO’s defense was good, but not dominant in opener as non-DI Missouri Baptist hits 50% from the field in the loss.
SIUE 74, No. 20 Purdue 105. SIUE pulled down 24 offensive rebounds on 51 misses. That’s a 47% OREB rate against the No. 20 team in the nation, which is very, very good. Too bad they couldn’t turn those rebounds into a lot of points. Also, coaches are probably going to want to reign in Daniel Kinchen a bit, who shot 12 three-pointers in the loss. He made four.
Brescia 61, Murray State 118. Gaudy final score aside, our biggest question about the Racers entering the season isn’t their offense; we know that’s going to be good. But have they found a third scorer in Byron Hawkins? 28 points for the Towson transfer, but let’s see what he does against more Division I competition before we get too excited.
Tennessee Wesleyan 42, Jacksonville State 100. JSU put up 100 points while simultaneously hitting just 59% from the free-throw line. Gamecocks held the Bulldogs to a hapless 20% from the field in a lopsided win.
Midway 56, Tennessee Tech 94. Five Golden Eagles finished with double-digit scoring, the offense was efficient, and the defense kept Tennessee Wesleyan in check. Pretty much exactly what you hope for when you play a non-Division I opponent
Tennessee State 56, No. 4 Kansas 92. Dareon Reddick had 20 points, which is not shabby against a top-5 team. TSU also forced 20 Jayhawk turnovers. That’s about all there is to write home about out of this one
Austin Peay 54, Vanderbilt 73. Another good freshman performance, this time it’s Terry Taylor with a game-high 15 points. The Governors were in this game in the second half, pulling as close as 7, but foul trouble and rebounding helped Vanderbilt pull away late.
Team trending upward: Eastern Kentucky. We expect them to be improved over last year. They didn’t necessarily over-perform (they were favored on the road) but they showed they can win ugly and we’re seeing a potential third offensive threat on the roster.
Team trending downward: This is a tough pick, because there were no real surprises, but I’m going with Morehead State. Yes, Xavier shot the lights out but my larger concern is that Morehead State’s offense struggled to get any real momentum going. I didn’t expect Morehead State to win against the Musketeers, but I did hope they would be competitive. They simply weren’t, on either side of the ball.
Player of the night: There were a lot of good performances, but Nick Mayo gets the nod for having a great night on a team that won against Division I competition. He’ll probably get this “award” quite a few times this season…
Player I want to see more out of: Austin Luke can run the point for Belmont. We know that. But I’d like to see him be a bigger offensive threat. Luke struggled tonight against Washington, shooting just 1-8 from the field in the Bruins loss. I think Luke can be more than just a passer, and the Bruins could be even more dangerous if he becomes another weapon for that offense.
My “Wild card” award: This is an “award” I can give to any player or team for any reason I choose. (Unlike the other awards…which basically work the same way.) My first WIld Card award of the year goes to the OVC’s freshman class. Seriously, go back through my recaps and see how many freshman I mention! There are some special young players in the league this year, and that has me really excited for the future of this league.
There are some special young players in the league this year
Notes, Quotes and…Tweets!
- Probably not, but really cool anyway…
James Harden heard the Colonels were in Houston tonight. pic.twitter.com/AaQphTQLpj
— EKUHoops (@EKUHoops) November 11, 2017
- If you missed this news from earlier today, former Tennessee State star Robert Covington is expected to be offered a new contract with the 76ers in the next week that could be worth $50 million or more. Covington went undrafted the same year Isaiah Cannan was picked in the second round. Canaan is currently without a team after being waived by the Rockets earlier this season.
- Jacksonville State put up 100 points against their non-Division I foe tonight. It had been 380 games, more than 10 years, since JSU last hit triple digits, which is insane to think about.
- Oh, and happened in that JSU game as well
— JSU Men's Basketball (@JSU_MBB) November 11, 2017
- Per WPSD’s Jeff Bidwell, the Racers 69.0% shooting from the field vs. Brescia is the best they’ve had in any game since at least 1998-99, the furthest back game-by-game records for the Racers go.
- Murray State’s promotion for their next home game is…interesting. And there’s a hype video!
RACERS WIN!!! 118-61 vs. Brescia!!
Now it's time to Unite The League!!! 👊🦇🏊⚡️💚
It's Justice League night at the CFSB Center
this Monday at 7:00pm when the Racers host MTSU. pic.twitter.com/GM6qjR2Ip5
— Murray State Sports (@MSURacers) November 11, 2017
Eastern Illinois at Nebraska
7:30 p.m. CT (BTN Plus)
Oh hai Eastern Illinois, welcome to the season! EIU might not have played a regular season game, but there’s already a bit of intrigue surrounding the Panthers, as EIU beat Illinois (yes, that Illinois) in an Exhibition game at Lantz Arena…and then lost three days later against Division II Southern Indiana in the same arena. I’m not going to lie, EIU is really putting my #ItsOnlyExhibition mantra to the test this year as those are wildly weird results. For example, EIU held Illinois to 40% shooting from the field but allowed Southern Indiana to shoot 61%. It’s a little bizarre, exhibition or not.
What does seem at least somewhat noteworthy from those games is that Eastern Illinois might be a better offensive team than we’ve come to expect. Montell Goodwin had a pretty good first year with the Panthers, and the JUCO transfer should be a solid scoring threat for EIU again this year, and the Panthers have a second three-point threat in Terrell Lewis as well. Muusa Dama is one the best interior defenders in the league as the Panthers finally have a 6’9 guy that plays like he’s 6’9.
Nebraska head coach Tim Miles is widely believed to be on the hot seat but the Huskers bring back nine guys from a 12-win team last year, and most predictions have Nebraska near the bottom of the Big 10 this year. The Huskers are already a little bit beat up: three guys, including standout guard Glenn Watson Jr. missed Nebraska’s second exhibition game with what’s being described as “minor injuries.” According to the school, all three of those players are expected to play against Eastern Illinois. The Huskers frontcourt will be anchored by Isaac Copeland, a Georgetown transfer that could give EIU fits on the boards.