Ohio Valley Notebook
The Big Three
At this early juncture of conference play, it appears there are clearly three top teams in the OVC: Tennessee Tech, Eastern Illinois and Tennessee-Martin. Anything can happen once the OVC Tournament rolls around, but it looks like these three schools are the class of the league.
Tennessee Tech has not lost a game since December 21st, winning its last six contests. Jeff Lebo and his team are 4-0 in the OVC and 11-4 overall. The Golden Eagles have won a school-record 20 straight games at home at the Eblen Center. Their problems have come on the road, where they have a 5-4 record. One key for Tech has been its shooting. The team is shooting 53 percent in conference games and is averaging more than 80 points per game this year.
It has been the Henry Domercant Show all season long for Eastern Illinois. OVC members knew that he was good – he was voted as the OVC Preseason Player of the Year – but this good? The junior has led the team in scoring in every game except EIU’s opener against St. Joseph’s (Ind.) College, and has scored more than 36 percent of the Panthers points this year. The team has played very streaky basketball en route to its current 12-7, 4-1 OVC mark. After beating St. Joseph’s in its first game, Eastern Illinois lost three games, then won six straight contests, followed by four consecutive losses, and now the school is riding a five-game winning streak. If the Panthers are hot again come March, they may make a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee-Martin is 11-5 and 3-1 in the OVC, with seven home OVC games remaining. UTM is off to its best start since joining Division I. Also, like Tennessee Tech and Eastern Illinois, the Skyhawks are perfect at home, with a 7-0 record at the Elam Center. UT-Martin may be the deepest team in the conference, with 10 players averaging double-digits in minutes played per contest. One thing that could hurt the Skyhawks down the stretch is their free throw shooting. The team is shooting a collective 68 percent from the line.
Two players have established themselves as clear-cut OVC Player of the Year candidates: Tennessee Tech’s Damien Kinloch and Eastern Illinois’ Henry Domercant. There is no coincidence that the players play on teams ranked first and second respectively in the latest conference standings.
Kinloch, a 6-foot-8 forward, is fifth in the league in scoring with almost 17 points per game. The junior from Charleston, South Carolina, leads the OVC in rebounding with 9.4 boards per contest. He also ranks among the league elite in field goal percentage (2nd with 63 percent) and blocked shots (6th with 1.53 per game). Kinloch has led the Golden Eagles in scoring in seven of their fifteen games, and has led the team in rebounding in all but two contests. The transfer from South Carolina has also won four OVC Newcomer of the Week awards. It is fair to say that at the very least, he is a lock for the Newcomer of the Year award.
Domercant, a junior from Lisle, Illinois, is currently leading the OVC with more than 26 points per game. That average is second best in the nation, two points behind VMI freshman Jason Conley. Domercant, who has been chosen as the OVC Player of the Week three times this season, has scored more than 20 points in his last 11 games, including a career-high 40 points against Loyola on December 15th. The 6-foot-4 guard also leads the conference with 3.5 made 3-pointers per game and a 90 percent free-throw clip.
See Ya SEMO
Before even playing a game at Southeast Missouri State, Justin Smith has announced that he is transferring to a junior college. The 6-foot-3 guard, who transferred to Southeast from Arkansas State last January, was a non-scholarship player who would have become eligible to play for the Indians this semester.
“Justin indicated to me that he feels the best option for him is to transfer to a junior college where he can play next year and then have two years eligibility remaining at a four-year school,” said SEMO head coach Gary Garner said. “He is a fine young man and we wish him the best.” Another possible reason for the guard’s decision to leave Cape Girardeau might be the December decision by Garner to red-shirt Smith for the rest of this season.
The league will have eleven teams next season, the most schools in the 54-year history of the OVC. Jacksonville State and Samford are joining the conference in time for next year’s basketball season. Samford is tied for first in the Atlantic Sun with a 7-2 record, while Jacksonville State is eighth in the conference with a 3-6 mark.
All-OVC NBA Team
Coach: Clem Haskins, a three-time OVC Player of the Year at Western Kentucky
Guard: Trenton Hassell, Austin Peay ’01
Forward: Popeye Jones, Murray State ’92
Forward: Anthony Mason, Tennessee State ’88
Forward: Carlos Rogers, Tennessee State ’94
Unfortunately for the OVC, there are only 4 players in the NBA who played in the league. 4 on 4 anyone? Also, Clem Haskins is not coaching big-time hoops anymore, as a result of a massive academic fraud scandal during his reign at the University of Minnesota.