Eastern Illinois (11-20) vs. Southeast Missouri State (16-15)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 6, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Municipal Auditorium (8,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: OVC Digital Network. Home Record: EIU 5-9, SEMO 9-5. Away Record: EIU 4-11, SEMO 7-8. Neutral Record: EIU 2-0, SEMO 0-2. Conference Record: EIU 6-10, SEMO 8-8. Series Record: Eastern Illinois leads, 23-21.
GAME NOTES: First round action in the 50th annual Ohio Valley Conference Tournament gets underway on Wednesday night in Nashville, as the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks tangle with the Eastern Illinois Panthers at Municipal Auditorium.
The sixth-seeded Redhawks, winners of this event back in 2000, closed out the regular season with back-to-back victories, the most notable of those coming on Saturday at Murray State in a lopsided 84-68 final. With the triumphs SEMO finished at .500 in league play through 16 games and was one game over .500 overall as well.
Meanwhile, the seventh-seeded Panthers managed to bounce back from an awful stretch between late November and the middle of January when they lost 12 in a row, by winning three straight down the stretch and four of the last five, the lone setback coming against league-leading Belmont (80-49). On Saturday EIU, which also has one OVC Tournament title (2001) ramped up against SIU- Edwardsville in a 61-46 final at home, but still the team was just 6-10 in conference play.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Panthers now own a 23-21 advantage over SEMO after the squads split their two regular-season matchups.
The survivor of this clash will be back in action on Thursday in the quarterfinals versus third-seeded Eastern Kentucky for the right to take on Murray State in the semifinals on Friday.
Eastern Illinois won just twice in eight conference road dates this season so expecting the Panthers to perform at a high level in a foreign place would be asking quite a bit. The top scorer for the team in league action was Morris Woods, hitting for 13.0 ppg as he shot 54.7 percent from the floor, but he could have been even more productive if not for his 66.3 percent effort at the free-throw line. Sherman Blanford (11.6 ppg) was also sketchy at the charity stripe where he made only 62.5 percent of his opportunities, but you can cut him some slack given that he did lead the group on the glass in those contests with 7.4 rpg and was also second in assists with 45.
The Redhawks had a pair of players start every conference game this season, one of them being Corey Wilford who ended up leading the group in scoring with his 15.1 ppg, stemming mostly from his 46-of-104 (.442) effort behind the 3- point line. The other was Lucas Nutt who, despite being much further down on the scoring list with just 6.1 ppg, his contributions were no less important because he averaged an even five assists per contest and only a shade over two turnover per game. Some of those dishes landed in the hands of Tyler Stone (13.7 ppg) and Marland Smith (10.8 ppg), the former also creating some of his own shot opportunities as he placed second on the glass with 7.1 rpg, trailing only Nino Johnson (9.9 ppg) who was responsible for 8.2 rpg.
With guys like Johnson willing to throw himself into the fray in the paint, a team like SEMO has the sort of players that should be able to carry it beyond this opening game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SE Missouri St. 71, Eastern Illinois 62
03/06 10:38:31 ET