Eastern Kentucky (14-3) at Belmont (13-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 17, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Curb Events Center (5,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: EKU 10-0, Belmont 6-0. Away Record: EKU 4-3, Belmont 5-3. Neutral Record: EKU 0-0, Belmont 2-1. Conference Record: EKU 4-0, Belmont 4-0. Series Record: Series tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: One of the three remaining unbeatens in the Ohio Valley Conference will fall on Thursday as the Eastern Kentucky Colonels and Belmont Bruins square off at the Curb Events Center.
This will be the third meeting in history between these schools, who currently both own 4-0 marks in OVC action. The Bruins and Colonels played a non- conference, home-and-home series in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons. Both squads defended their home floor successfully.
Jeff Neubauer's Colonels pushed their winning streak to four on Saturday with a 59-52 victory over Morehead State. The decision pinned EKU at a 14-3 overall record which includes its 4-3 mark away from home. Tarius Johnson is the reigning OVC Player of the Week after producing 14 points and seven rebounds per contest last week. Johnson has helped the Colonels improve to 4-0 in OVC play for the first time since starting 5-0 in 1978-79.
Despite Johnson's recent surge, he is fifth on the squad with 7.1 points per game. Glenn Cosey is the team's leading scorer (15.0) and Mike DiNunno is close behind with 14.5 points per game. Cosey and DiNunno are combining to dish out 7.5 assists per game as well. EKU is one of the more balanced teams in the conference as it ranks fourth in scoring offense (71.6 ppg) and third in scoring defense (63.3). The offensive production was not present in its win over the Eagles on Saturday in which EKU hit just 39.6 percent of its field goal attempts, but it forced 22 turnovers and limited MSU to 37.3 percent shooting.
Belmont is unlikely to commit anywhere near that total of turnovers, as it comes in tied with EKU atop the conference's assist-to-turnover ratio leaderboard (1.2). The Bruins also hold an outright scoring lead (76.9 ppg) while limiting their opposition to a second best 61.9 ppg. The high level of production on the court has yielded a 13-4 record for coach Rick Byrd's squad.
The Bruins will hold an edge over most of their opponents during their inaugural tour of the OVC due to their three-headed attack starring senior guard Ian Clark, who is the third leading scorer in the conference with 18.8 ppg. Seniors forward Trevor Noack and guard Kerron Johnson are both chipping in 12.9 points per outing while J.J. Mann and Blake Jenkins have both shown the ability to contribute in the points column as well. Clark poured in 32 points to lead Belmont to a 90-53 rout of Tennessee-Martin on Saturday. The Bruins connected on 52.5 percent of their field goal attempts including 11- of-27 from distance en route to their fourth consecutive win.
Although EKU continues to prove its doubters wrong, it has a mountain of a challenge awaiting at the Curb Events Center, where the Bruins are perfect. The Colonels are adept defensively, but they will need to be at their best to silence Clark, who has been firing up 3-pointers like a cannon.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Belmont 70, Eastern Kentucky 64
01/17 10:34:57 ET