Ohio Valley Conference

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No. 6 Maryland escapes No. 11 Belmont

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Maryland and Belmont engaged in a back-and-forth first-round matchup in Jacksonville on Thursday as the No. 4 seed Terrapins advanced in the East Region of the NCAA tournament with a 79-77 victory.

Belmont had a chance to go ahead trailing 78-77 on what could have been the game’s final possession but an errant backdoor pass from Grayson Murphy became a turnover as Maryland’s Eric Ayala tipped to ball as the Terps recovered the ball. Darryl Morsell (18 points) made one of two free throws for Maryland and Belmont had a final game-winning attempt from Dylan Windler — but his desperation half-court heave fell short.

Trailing by six at the half, the Terps (23-10) came roaring back in the second half behind a balanced effort. Despite an off-day from starting point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (nine points on 3-for-18 shooting), Maryland got strong efforts from four other players. The frontcourt of Jalen Smith (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Bruno Fernando (14 points, 13 rebounds) both tallied double-doubles and Smith’s emphatic and-one dunk with under two minutes left gave Maryland a two-possession lead. Eric Ayala (12 points) also finished in double-figures for the Terps.

Belmont (27-6) had a monster outing from senior Dylan Windler as he finished with a game-high 35 points — including a very good 7-for-14 day from three-point territory. After advancing past Temple in the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday night, the Bruins looked like they could pull off the potential upset until the game’s final possessions. Guard Kevin McClain also had a solid day with 19 points. But nobody else on the Belmont roster could muster more than six points in the game.

Maryland is heading to the second round as they play No. 3 seed LSU on Saturday in Jacksonville. That matchup will feature a great frontcourt battle between Smith and Fernando going against LSU’s Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. The matchup at point guard could be the difference, however, as Cowan will need to play better going against a strong lead guard in the Tigers’ Tremont Waters.

The Terps have to be pleased that they escaped with this win as they struggled from three-point range (6-for-22 for 27 percent) while Cowan had a horrible shooting day. If Cowan can return to his normal form, then Saturday’s second-round matchup should be pretty evenly matched.

Introducing Cinderella: Murray State and Ja Morant earn the first autobid

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The first autobid of the 2019 NCAA tournament has been earned as Murray State knocked off Belmont for a 77-65 win.

Receiving national attention all season thanks to sophomore point guard Ja Morant, the Racers don’t have to sweat on Selection Sunday thanks to another stellar performance from their superstar. Considered by some to be the best NBA Draft prospect in the country behind Duke’s Zion Williamson, Morant made the game-winning three-point play in the OVC semifinals on Friday before a 36-point performance against Belmont on Saturday. Morant’s heroics in Nashville during the week helped lift Murray State back into the Field of 68.

But Murray State is more than just Morant. The Racers were good enough to force their way into the bubble conversation before earning the autobid as they’ll be a very dangerous team in a few weeks.

CONFERENCE: Ohio Valley Conference

COACH: Matt McMahon

RECORD: 27-4, 16-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 55
  • NET: 52

PROJECTED SEED: Murray State was strong enough to earn at-large consideration before earning the autobid as they’ll likely slot at a No. 12 or No. 13 seed in the NCAA tournament.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Besides for Morant (24.2 ppg, 10.3 apg, 5.5 rpg) and his electrifying athleticism and above-the-rim play, Murray State has three other double-figure scorers to contend with. It’s part of the reason Morant accumulated so many assists despite being a gigantic target all season. Senior guard Shaq Buchanan (13.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg) is the team’s second-leading scorer while freshman guard Tevin Brown (11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) has emerged as the team’s third playmaker on the perimeter. And junior big man Darnell Cowart (10.3 ppg and 6.7 rpg) is a wide-bodied big man who is a load to handle at 295 pounds.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: The Racers actually just earned their best win of the season by beating Belmont in the OVC title game as it gave them their first Q1 victory. Murray State also lost to Alabama and Auburn by single digits earlier this season. The only loss Murray State suffered that wasn’t a top-60 team in NET was a respectable Q2 loss to 20-win Jacksonville State. Even though Murray State didn’t play a lot of marquee competition, they didn’t really lose to anybody bad.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Morant led the country in assists per game by nearly 2.5 per contest over his leading competitor. But the key for Murray State making a run could be its stellar three-point defense. Allowing opponents to shoot only 28.7 percent from three-point range on the season, good for fourth in the nation, the Racers do an excellent job of playing opponents off the line and making them settle for twos.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Murray State has consistently been one of the nation’s great mid-major programs. Making the NCAA tournament last season, the Racers have made 17 total NCAA tournament appearances. And besides for Morant, the program has a tremendous history of producing NBA guards — particularly for a mid-major program. Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne are both recent Murray State products who went on to play in the League.

FINAL THOUGHT: America needed this. During a season in which the bubble has been incredibly mediocre and filled with near-.500 teams from power conferences, getting an exciting player like Morant into the field is a breath of fresh air for college basketball diehards. Hopefully, the committee also takes a serious look at Belmont’s at-large profile as well. Because the Bruins have a star of their own in Dylan Windler and they’re a great team in their own right. It would be a lot of fun to see two OVC teams make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1987.

VIDEO: Murray State ‘Racer Mania’ dunk contest highlights

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Thursday night Murray State held its annual “Racer Mania” event, which also signaled the start of a new era. With Steve Prohm now the head coach at Iowa State, Matt McMahon takes over a team picked in the preseason to win the West Division of the OVC. And those preseason expectations come in spite of the fact that four starters, led by lottery pick Cameron Payne, have moved on.

Preseason All-OVC forward Jeffrey Moss will be asked to lead the way, and Thursday night two guards who began their college careers at other Division I schools put their athleticism on display for the home folks. Demarcus Croaker, who began his college career at Texas and is expected to factor into the Racers’ perimeter rotation, took on Tulane transfer Jonathan Stark (he’ll have to sit out this season) in the final round of the team dunk contest.

And they threw down some impressive dunks as well, with the 6-foot-4 Croaker edging out the 6-foot tall Stark. Above are highlights from the contest, with Dustin Brown responsible for the footage.

Ohio Valley Conference Preview: Belmont reigns supreme

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game didn’t lack any drama. Taylor Barnette drilled a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left to send the Belmont to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years. It handed Murray State, which was undefeated in conference play, an invitation to the NIT.

The Bruins and Racers are expected to top their respective divisions again this season despite going through two very different offseasons.

Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, entering his 30th season, brings back four starters. Barnette, the OVC Tournament MVP and Craig Bradshaw, the Ohio Valley Preseason Player of the Year, make up the conference’s top back court, while Evan Bradds mans the frontline after a breakout sophomore season. Belmont is one of the nation’s best mid-major programs year-after-year, and that shouldn’t change this season.

Murray State, however, experienced an offseason of change. In April, Cameron Payne left for the NBA, becoming a lottery pick that will continue his career alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then in June, head coach Steve Prohm left to take over the Iowa State program. Despite the coaching change and the loss of three of its top four scorers, Murray State remains a contender in the OVC. First-year head coach Matt McMahon has an all-OVC caliber guard in Jeffery Moss, the lone returning starter. Justin Seymour also returns, but the perimeter will be enhanced by the additions of Texas transfer Damarcus Croaker, Chattanooga transfer Gee McGhee and JuCo transfer Bryce Jones. 

In total, there are four new head coaches in the league: McMahon, Dan McHale (Eastern Kentucky), Rick Ray (Southeast Missouri State) and Jon Harris (SIU-Edwardsville). 

Even after graduating two all-OVC players, McHale and the Colonels could still be Belmont’s toughest challenge in the East Division, relying on the returning back court of Ja’Mill Powell and Isaac McGlone. Morehead State won five of its last six games, narrowly losing to Murray State in the OVC Tournament semifinals, to close out 2014-15. The Eagles could build of last season’s strong push with Brent Arrington returning to lead the team’s hard-nose defense. But Jacksonville State poses as a deep sleeper, a cast of newcomers headlined by well-traveled forward Cameron Biedscheid.

UT Martin, coming off one of the better turnarounds in the nation a season ago, will likely be Murray State’s toughest competition in the West Division. Twymond Howard and Alex Anderson make up a solid 1-2 punch, while Myles Taylor, another double-digit scorer, returns from a shortened 2014-15 season. Chris Olivier transferring hurts Eastern Illinois up front, but Trae Anderson and Cornell Johnston should be enough to keep the Panthers in play this year.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “I think Belmont is the best team. They won the conference tournament last year. They have bulk of the guys coming back and they definitely have the best coach coming back.”
  • Sleeper: “I would say Morehead State. I think they’re going to have a really good team. They play hard, they play physical, they guard you. You really have to prepare for them. Heck, they were close to making the conference championship game last year.”
  • Star to watch: “I think Craig Bradshaw from Belmont. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He plays with a great motor and within the team concept. He can put points on the board, really quickly too.”

PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Craig Bradshaw, Belmont

One of the best mid-major players in the nation, Bradshaw is coming off a junior campaign of 18.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line. An intense competitor, the 6-foot-3 senior had arguably his best game against one of the nation’s premier defenses, scoring 25 points (10-of-19 shooting) and nine rebounds against Virginia in the NCAA tournament.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE TEAM:

  • Evan Bradds, Belmont: The anchor in the middle for the Bruins, the 6-foot-7 junior averaged 14.2 points and 7.2 boards per game, shooting 69 percent from the field, second in the nation in that category.
  • Chris Horton, Austin Peay: One of the bright lights for the Governors in 2014-15, Horton averaged a double-double: 13.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Tops in the conference with 2.3 blocks per game.
  • Twymond Howard, UT Martin: One of the top newcomers in the league from a season ago, the 6-foot-6 forward recorded five of his six double-doubles during conference play.
  • Jeffery Moss, Murray State: A long, athletic guard who can connect from three should see a bump in his offensive numbers with Cameron Payne in the NBA and two of the Racers’ other double-digit scorers gone from a season ago.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @OVCBall

PREDICTED FINISH

East Division

1. Belmont
2. Morehead State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. Jacksonville State
5. Tennessee Tech
6. Tennessee State

West Division

1. Murray State
2. UT Martin
3. Eastern Illinois
4. Southeast Missouri State
5. Austin Peay
6. SIU-Edwardsville

Former Rhode Island forward to complete eligibility at Eastern Kentucky

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Jarelle Reischel, who played one season at Rice before transferring to Rhode Island in 2012, was one of three players who left Dan Hurley’s program at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. Reischel’s playing time decreased while at URI, as he played just over nine minutes per game as a redshirt junior.

With one season of eligibility remaining, Reischel has committed to Eastern Kentucky where he’ll play for new head coach Dan McHale. News of Reischel’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

Reischel will be eligible immediately, and he’s a versatile forward who can help McHale as he looks to build upon the success enjoyed under Jeff Neubauer.

In his first season at Rhode Island, Reischel played more than 19 minutes per game and averaged 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per contest. He’s one of five players who will join the EKU program this summer, and there’s history between Reischel and his new head coach.

McHale was a member of Kevin Willard’s coaching staff at Seton Hall during Reischel’s first navigation of the recruiting process, with the 6-foot-6 forward picking Rice over the Pirates and Penn State. McHale obviously didn’t get to coach Reischel then, but he will in 2015-16.

SIU Edwardsville announces that head coach Lennox Forrester will not return

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Tuesday afternoon SIU Edwardsville announced that head coach Lennox Forrester will not be retained. The Cougars finished this season with a 12-16 overall record, going 8-8 in Ohio Valley Conference games and losing to Eastern Illinois in the first round of the OVC tournament.

Forrester, whose first season at SIUE was the program’s last as a Division II member, ends his tenure with a record of 82-146. The 12 wins this season represent the most the Cougars were able to win in a single season under Forrester’s watch. And the lack of on-court success is what athletic director Dr. Brad Hewitt cited in his announcement of the move.

“This was a difficult decision, coming after a thorough and thoughtful evaluation of the past eight years of work,” Dr. Hewitt said in the release.  “I would like to thank Coach Forrester for his dedicated service to SIUE and his leadership in developing young men of character. These student-athletes have represented the University and the men’s basketball program in a positive manner.

“Ultimately, our won-loss record and program support are not where we believe it should be.”

Four of SIUE’s top five scorers are seniors, led by guard Kris Davis who was the team’s lone double-digit scorer at 14.3 points per game. Junior Donivine Stewart, who was third on the team with an average of 8.6 points per game, is the lone player among the top five with eligibility remaining.