It’s known as March Madness for a reason, as anything can truly happen in the college basketball world. After just four days of post-season play, America may already have its new favourite team.
The Austin Peay Governors.
Austin Peay came to Nashville, TN as the 8-seed in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, and faced a tough road towards the conference championship. Playing in the championship on Saturday night seemed like a long shot for the Governors, but they set out to prove everyone wrong.
In their tournament opener, they took down the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles with relative ease, 92072. The next night, they found themselves in a much closer affair against the Tennessee State Tigers, but came away with the 74-72 win.
Their reward for having won two wins in two days? A date with the top-seeded Belmont Bruins.
Playing three games in three nights is never easy, especially when the third night is against the best team in the conference from the regular season. After taking down two tough opponents in their first two games of the tournament, the Governors were battle-tested and ready for a challenge.
Belmont and Austin Peay needed overtime to determine who would advance to the conference championship, and the Bruins nearly survived. However, a review of their last-second basket showed it was released after the final buzzer, and the Austin Peay team and their fans erupted into a frenzy.
The 8-seed Austin Peay Governors knocked off the Belmont Bruins in overtime, 97-96, to advance to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament finals.
Austin Peay used a big second half comeback to climb back into the contest after trailing by 9 at the break, and forward Chris Horton was at the forefront of the charge.
With 46 seconds to play in the second half, Horton hit a jumper while getting fouled. He proceeded to hit the free throw, and the Governors took a two-point lead, at 89-87.
Belmont was on the brink of being upset, and having to settle for a berth in the NIT. Craig Bradshaw did his best to ensure that didn’t happen. He responded to Horton’s three point play with a layup of his own to tie the game at 89-all.
John Murry was then called for an offensive foul with 5 seconds left on the clock, giving Belmont one last chance at scoring the win in regulation. Evan Bradds missed a jumper at the buzzer, and the game was off to extra time.
In the extra frame, both teams struggled to find the scoreboard, as almost two minutes ticked off the clock before Belmont broke the 89-all tie. Amanze Egekeze hit a three to give the Bruins a 92-89 advantage with 3:11 left on the clock.
Horton responded for the Governors in a big way. He scored four straight points for Austin Peay, all on second-chance opportunities, to push the Governors ahead by 1 with 2:03 to play.
Bradds and Murry proceeded to swap points, and Austin Peay was clinging to their one-point lead. Horton added two more free throws to his total, stretching their lead to 97-94 with 1:01 left.
Once again, Bradds responded for the Bruins to draw them back within a point. Then, much like the first half, a costly turnover from Murry gave Belmont a shot at the win.
After Murry’s turnover, Belmont called a timeout to get things settled on the offensive end. Out of the break, Austin Luke put up a three pointer with 4 seconds on the clock. It was off the mark, but Bradshaw grabbed the offensive rebound.
Belmont looked to have found the bottom of the basket to come away with the hard-fought win. After the officials reviewed the play, it was ruled that the buzzer went before the shot went up, and the basket was waived off.
The 8th-seeded Austin Peay Governors upset the top-ranked Belmont Bruins in overtime, 97-96, to advance to the Ohio Valley Conference championship on Saturday night.
Senior big man Chris Horton brought his A+ game for the third night in a row as the Governors continued their Cinderella run through the conference tournament. Horton recorded 30 points and 16 rebounds in the win, and 10 of his rebounds were on the offensive end of the floor. He went 8-of-11 from the floor, and 14-of-16 from the free throw line.
Freshman Jared Savage added 21 points of his own, and Josh Robinson chipped in with 25 points in the win.
Belmont’s talented trio of Craig Bradshaw, Evan Bradds, and Taylor Barnette did their best to keep the Bruins in the contest, but fell just short in the end. Bradds scored a game-high 32 points to go along with 4 rebounds in the loss. He missed only one field goal attempt on the night, shooting 15-of-16 from the floor.
Bradshaw recorded 18 points and 5 rebounds, while Barnette added 13 points and 6 assists in a losing effort.
The win sends the Austin Peay Governors (17-17, 7-9) into the conference tournament championship match on Saturday night. They haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008, but find themselves one game away from ending heir drought. They take on the winner of Friday night’s late game between the Morehead State Eagles and the UT-Martin Skyhawks.
Despite the loss, the Belmont Bruins (20-11, 12-4) will be making a post-season appearance, just not in the NCAA Tournament. As the regular season champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, the Bruins will take part in the NIT.