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Ohio Valley Notebook

February 9, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Ohio Valley Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Hitting the home stretch

The Ohio Valley Conference is quickly approaching the final sprint of the regular season, and the teams are jockeying for the best spot – or any spot – in the OVC tournament.

Here’s quick refresher course in the OVC tournament: Only the top eight teams make the tournament out of 11 total teams. The top four teams will host first round games, giving those schools the ever-cherished home-court advantage. The conference semifinals and championship will take place March 5 and 6 in Nashville, Tenn.

If the season ended today, here’s where your OVC teams would fall:

No. 1 Austin Peay vs. No. 8 Southeast Missouri State
No. 2 Murray State vs. No. 7 Tennessee State
No. 3 Morehead State vs. No. 6 Jacksonville State
No. 4 Tennessee Tech vs. No. 5 Samford

Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin and Eastern Illinois are on the outside looking in. But each team has seven more games to change its fortune. And Southeast Missouri State has the same conference record as Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Martin. There should be plenty of movement between now and the end of the season.

The hottest team in the OVC in 2003 has been Austin Peay. With a senior-laden lineup, the Governors have won 10 consecutive games after a poor non-conference start left Austin Peay 3-7. The Governors have overtaken Murray State, which has more impressive non-conference results, for the conference lead. The two teams only play once this season. And Austin Peay has the home-court advantage, which has produced 24 consecutive home-cooked victories. When Murray State comes calling, the streak could be up to 26 games.

So as the OVC appears to be a two-horse race entering the final turn. Equally important, Tennessee Tech, Morehead State, Samford, Jacksonville State and Tennessee State will compete for third and fourth place and a first-round home-court game in the conference tournament. Stay tuned, there’s much more action to play out before all is said and done.

Team Reports:

The following team reports reflect the OVC’s standings as of Feb. 6.

Austin Peay Governors (13-7, 10-0)

Seniors center Josh Lewis and swingman Adrian Henning continue to lead the Governors’ rise to the top of the OVC. Lewis is one of the more intimidating post players in the conference, grabbing over seven rebounds a game and averaging 2.5 blocks per game. Henning is the best offensive threat for Austin Peay, leading the team with 13.7 points per game. Junior guard Anthony Davis has emerged as a reliable second option, averaging 12.4 points per game, including double-figures in the previous five games. Austin Peay’s defense has smothered the competition during the team’s 10-game winning streak. The Governors have held opponents under 58 points in four of their last five games.

In the next two weeks, Austin Peay can stretch its home winning streak to 27 with wins over Samford, Tennessee Martin and Murray State. Then the Governors hit the road to play Samford, again, and Wichita State, in the ESPN-created Bracket Buster event.

Murray State Racers (18-4, 8-1)

The Racers have won six of their last seven games, including all six conference games, since losing to Samford at home, 61-58. Murray State still is the most impressive team in the OVC because the Racers have good wins over teams like Southern Mississippi and Southern Illinois. The Racers do, however, show lapses of concentration, as in their loss at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. If the loss had come to Texas A&M, it’d be slightly more forgivable, but a loss to the satellite school will require more work for absolution.

Senior forward Cuthbert Victor remains the workhorse for Murray State, averaging 15.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. He is easily the most critical player on a team with five players averaging in double-figures.

Murray State will have to fight to catch Austin Peay by taking its game on the road. The Racers complete a five-game road trip with games at Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee Tech, Austin Peay and Tennessee Martin. The Racers finally return home Jan. 19 to play Tennessee State. If the Racers emerge unscathed, they will have wrestled the division lead away from Austin Peay and will be the odds-on favorite to win the conference.

Morehead State Eagles (10-10, 5-4)

The Eagles have just about no chance of capturing the regular season title as they have lost twice to Murray State and lost the only game against Austin Peay. But Morehead State still has an excellent opportunity to finish third or fourth in the conference and to claim a first-round conference tournament game. The Eagles have beaten both Samford and Tennessee Tech but will play each team again before the season ends.

Senior guards Ricky Minard and Chez Marks continue to dominate competition as the best duo in the OVC. Minard averages 20 points, seven rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game. That’s a ton of productivity each night. If the Eagles can storm ahead of Austin Peay and Murray State in the conference tournament, Minard will have a solid claim to be the conference’s most valuable player, ahead of Murray State’s Victor. Meanwhile, Marks is an equally potent scorer, averaging 19.5 points per game.

Morehead State completes a four-game home stand with games against Tennessee State, Jacksonville State and Samford before visiting Eastern Illinois and Southeastern Missouri State.

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (11-9, 5-4)

The Golden Eagles picked up a much-needed win again Samford in their last game. The win propels Tennessee Tech into fourth place, the final spot for a coveted first-round home game in the OVC tournament. Tennessee Tech has won five consecutive games at home, too. Junior forward Willie Jenkins has been the catalyst for Tennessee Tech’s success, averaging 20.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. The Golden Eagles as a team average nearly 78 points per game and are one of the few teams that can keep pace with the high-scoring Racers.

Tennessee Tech can solidify its place in the standings with home games against Jacksonville State, Murray State and Tennessee Martin. The Golden Eagles then become the visitors for Jacksonville State before visiting Samford, which could be a game that will help determine which teams captures fourth place in the standings.

Samford Bulldogs (10-10, 5-4)

One of two new teams to the OVC this year, Samford has enjoyed a moderate degree of success in its new digs. The Bulldogs are currently in position to compete in the conference tournament. Samford’s season is a model of balance as the Bulldogs have avoided long losing streaks but have also been unable to build long winning streaks. They have neither won nor lost more than two consecutive games.

The Bulldogs are also statistically balanced. Senior center Phillip Ramelli leads the team with 13.5 points per game, but three other Bulldogs average double-figures in scoring. The Bulldogs collectively shoot 41 percent from three-point range, making Samford a dangerous team in close games.

Samford needs to maintain its established rhythm of equality to survive a rough road trip against Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State. The Bulldogs then return home for another game against Austin Peay and against Tennessee Tech. This stretch will determine if Samford is a contender for the conference tournament championship or a likely first-round knockout.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks (11-10, 4-6)

The Gamecocks are the other OVC newcomer and have also fared relatively well so far. Jacksonville State is in position to compete for a spot in the conference tournament, despite starting conference play 0-3. The Gamecocks have essentially won games against the OVC’s weaker competition and lost to the conference’s upper echelon squads. The Gamecocks have also lost all but two road games this year.

All five starts average double-figures for Jacksonville State, but the Gamecocks lack a gamebreaker who can take over when the going gets tough. Senior forward Trent Eager leads the team with 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Jacksonville State needs to find a way to play better on the road as the Gamecocks face Tennessee Tech, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky on the road before returning home to play the Golden Eagles again.

Tennessee State Tigers (4-15, 3-5)

Give coach Cy Alexander some credit for having the Tigers within sniffing distance of the conference tournament just one season after the scandal involving former coach Nolan Richardson III left the program in a shambles. Tennessee State may be in the midst of a four-game losing streak, but the Tigers have played well and could win enough games to claim one of the final spots for the OVC tournament.

Under Alexander’s tutelage, freshman guard Bruce Price offers Tennessee State a glimpse of a brighter future. Price leads the team with 17.4 points per game and has scored 20 points in three consecutive games. Price’s season includes a 38-point performance against Jacksonville State. More impressively, Price scored at will against Colorado, finishing with 29 points against a talented, major-conference opponent. Junior forward Roshaun Bowens is right behind Price in scoring, averaging 16.2 points per game. He leads the team in rebounding with 6.5 boards a game.

To end their losing streak, the Tigers must win on the road against Morehead State or Eastern Kentucky. If those games turn into losses, Tennessee State will return to home to try again against Eastern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State. After playing at Tennessee Martin and Murray State, the Tigers will have completed a grueling run of six games in two weeks.

Southeast Missouri State Indians (10-10, 3-6)

The Indians hold a tenuous claim to the final postseason spot in the OVC by virtue of a win over Tennessee Martin. They play a single game against Eastern Kentucky, which is a home game for the Indians. Southeast Missouri State will play Tennessee Martin again. Those two games could be the difference between making the conference tournament and watching on the sidelines. The Indians ended a four-game losing streak by beating Tennesee Martin and the Skyhawks would be happy to create a new streak the next time Southeast Missouri State comes calling.

Senior center Brandon Griffin is a rare big man who can also double as floor genera. Griffin averages 12.7 points per game and leads the team with 7.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Junior guard Derek Winans is the team leader in scoring with 14.7 points per game.

The Indians play four out of their next five games at home, which should help their run to the postseason. They play Murray State, Eastern Illinois, at Tennessee State, then back home for Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State.

Eastern Kentucky Colonels (8-12, 3-6)

The Colonels’ continued to struggle on the road, dropping four out of five games on a recent road trip through the OVC. And the Colonels catch a slight break down the stretch with three road games to match four home games. Eastern Kentucky has not gone down easily, however, as every conference loss except one at Murray State has been by less than 10 points.

Sophomore guard Matt Witt continues to be an effective floor general for the Colonels, leading the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game and in assists with 5.6 assists per game. As tends to happen with young teams, the Colonels commit a ton of turnovers per game – 17.1 on average.

The kids need to grow up in a hurry down the stretch if the Colonels want to make the postseason. They must beat Tennessee State, Samford and Jacksonville State at home to have a shot at the postseason. The Colonels also play at Southeast Missouri State and Eastern Illinois in the next two weeks.

Tennessee Martin Skyhawks (8-13, 3-6)

The Skyhawks started conference play with an abysmal 0-5 record, but then rattled off three consecutive wins. But Southeast Missouri State ended the run, and now the Skyhawks must bounce back to have a shot at the postseason. Junior guard Justin Smith, who leads the team with 15.7 points per game, has not played since Jan. 15 when he tore his Achilles tendon and had season-ending surgery. Junior guard Jeremy Kelly has shouldered the scoring load, and he averages 13.7 points per game.

If the Skyhawks make the postseason, they must find a way to win on the road, which they’ve only done twice this season. Tennessee Martin plays at Eastern Illinois, at Austin Peay and at Tennessee Tech before returning home to play Murray State and Tennessee State.

Eastern Illinois Panthers (3-16, 1-8)

It’s a tough year to be a Panthers’ fan. Eastern Illinois has won only three games this year and a lone OVC game against Tennessee Tech to open the season. The Panters’ current losing streak has reached eight games. It’s a balanced streak – four road losses and four home losses. But balanced futility is futility nonetheless.

Sophomore guard Josh Gomes is the lone Panther scoring more than 10 points per game. Gomes averages 12.1 points per game. It’s not that the Panthers do anything terribly poorly more than they don’t do anything terribly well either. In the Panthers’ defense, they are a young team with five freshmen.

Eastern Illinois will look to build for the future in the next two weeks with games against Tennessee Martin, at Southeast Missouri State, at Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky.


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