It didn't take long to figure out today would be different than the first two rounds of action. Murray State fans filled up (relatively) the south end of the arena and were lively from the get-go. There were at least a couple thousand donning the blue and gold in the Nashville Municipal Arena stands. The atmosphere was decidedly different for the semifinal match-up between Tennessee Tech and top-seeded Murray State.
BONUS! Aaron Flener of CollegeBasketballTalk.com and I huddled next to a Super Pretzel machine on the Nashville Municipal Auditorium concourse. We talk about the Pac-10, Klay, the SEC, and our experiences at the OVC tournament so far. The podcast was recorded before the OVC semifinals. (Use the player here, or go to CBT's podcast site for other ways to listen).
Read on for both semifinal recaps and my usual low-quality photos.
Semifinal #1: Tennessee Tech vs. Murray State
Murray used the energy from the crowd to jump out to an early 8-1 lead. It looked like they would be able to cruise on into the conference championship game.
Kevin Murphy and his Golden Eagle teammates thought differently.
Tennessee Tech fought to take the lead at 22-20 with 3:57 in the first half and never gave it back. With 10:53 remaining, they had built a ten-point lead over the heavily-favored Racers.
Murray State fought back and tied the game numerous times down the stretch. Isaac Miles had a shot to send the game into overtime after TTU's Jud Dillard missed the front end of a one-and-one, but it clanked off the back-iron. TTU hit some free throws to close out the scoring and advance to the OVC championship game.
Murphy led all scores with 19 points on 7-14 shooting. Zac Swansey finished with eight and the biggest shot of the night for Tech as he hit a pull-up three with 22.5 seconds left to push the score to 60-55.
Ivan Aska led the Racers with 15 points on 3-5 shooting (9-13 FTs), but will likely be haunted by some key free throw misses in the last two minutes of the game.
This was easily the best game and best atmosphere so far in the tournament. It is a shame that Murray State was bounced, their fans would have provided an electric atmosphere for the title game. But this is March, and March cares not for your ticket sales or TV ratings.
Murray will get the auto-bid to the NIT for winning their regular season conference title. Now for pictures!
Ready for the tip!
The Racer Girls.
TTU's Zac Swansey prepares to defend the inbound pass from Murray's Donte Poole.
Murray's Ivan Aska with the ball in the post.
TTU fans celebrate the upset victory.
Semifinal #2: Austin Peay vs. Morehead State
As far as I am concerned, this was the Kenneth Faried show. He impressed the crowd early on with a spectacular windmill dunk in transition (not a Bud Nameck windmill dunk...the real thing). He is an absolutely relentless rebounder who gets perfect positioning seemingly every time. He scores most of his points off of offensive rebounds and he is remarkably good at reading the ball off the rim. His season rebounding numbers are beyond real (over 20% of offensive rebounds and 31% of defensive rebounds).
Faried also controlled the game on the defensive end in the first half. He had 6 blocks on 18 Austin Peay two-point attempts and three steals.
He is not without his faults though. He doesn't take shots outside of three feet and doesn't seem to have much of a back-to-the-basket game. That may impact his pro prospects, but for this game it didn't matter at all.
Led by Faried and senior Demonte Harper, Morehead State jumped out to a 10-0 lead. It was a lead that the Governors could never overcome. APSU wasn't able to get their first points until almost five minutes of gametime had passed.
Midway through the second half Austin Peay looked they were poised to make a run. However, Head Coach Dave Loos was called for a technical foul. Morehead turned that into a four point trip and APSU never recovered.
So chants of "More-head" won out over "Let's go Peay." I have to say, I have a hard time disagreeing with that.
This game pit two of the top three teams in the OVC and there was a clear talent difference from the first few nights. Morehead has athletes all over the floor and there were a number of very exciting dunks (even outside of Faried).
Demonte Harper of MSU led all scorers with 25 points on 9-14 shooting. Kenneth Faried's final line read 12 points, 21 rebounds (6 offensive) and 7 blocked shots.
Justin Blake came off the bench to lead the Governors with 13 points. Pictures, then a quick preview of the title game.
Faried prepares to dominate.
Almost an action shot! Josh Terry just jumped a little higher than I expected.
The view from my seat.
Little kid basketball at halftime!
The Morehead dancers.
One last shot of Faried.
So, Morehead State and Tennessee Tech will play tonight for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Morehead is the clear favorite here, as kenpom predicts them to win 73-65 with 79% confidence. Morehead won both regular season matchups and has won 11 out of 12 overall. The OVC would probably love to see Morehead advance so that their major star, Kenneth Faried, can be showcased in the tournament.
Tennessee Tech couldn't care less about all of that. They've got one shot to get where all college basketball teams want to be and they will be playing hard. It's March, so you never know what may happen.
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