Eastern Kentucky tops Belmont in OVC title game
Nashville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - The Eastern Kentucky Colonels put on their dancing shoes in the Music City, claiming their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2007 with a 79-73 victory over top-seeded Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Championship at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium.
Corey Walden led the way with a career-best 29 points -- 22 of which came in the second half -- while Glenn Cosey tallied 23 to help third-seeded Eastern Kentucky (24-9) deny Belmont a fourth consecutive trip to the Big Dance.
"It feels great," said Cosey, a senior. "I'm super-excited right now."
The normally sharp-shooting Bruins were beaten at their own game, as the Colonels knocked down 11-of-22 attempts from 3-point range while limiting the OVC regular-season champs to an 8-of-24 success rate from beyond the arc.
Walden and Cosey accounted for eight of those makes and ended a combined 16- of-25 from the field in Eastern Kentucky's seventh consecutive triumph overall. Walden added seven assists, with Tarius Johnson chipping in 15 points for the Colonels.
OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann came through with 18 points to pace Belmont. Evan Bradds and Drew Windler had 14 each in the loss, with Bradds posting 10 rebounds.
"I don't think we played poorly. We just didn't shoot the ball like this team needs to in order to win big games ... and [Eastern Kentucky] did shoot the ball well," said Belmont head coach Rick Byrd. "I thought they played really well."
The Colonels led by as many as 14 points during a well-executed first half and owned a 41-28 advantage early in the second, though Belmont regained its shooting stroke to later forge a 54-54 tie on Bradds' inside bucket with just under six minutes remaining.
Cosey then buried a deep 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and Walden hit one around a minute later, capping an 8-0 run that put Eastern Kentucky up 62-54 with four minutes left to play.
"We just stayed with it," said Walden. "We knew that they would make a run, but we just had to control their run and just play good defense and stay in it."
Belmont got the differential down as close as four after Bradds sank a short jumper that trimmed the lead to 65-61 with two minutes left, but the Colonels once again had an answer. Walden penetrated the lane before kicking out to an open Cosey, who was true again on another long-range shot, and EKU converted 9-of-10 foul shots thereafter to sew up its first OVC tourney crown in seven years.
Eastern Kentucky, which shot better than 65 percent in the first half of Saturday's semifinal win over Murray State, came out scorching in this one as well. The Colonels drained five straight 3-point attempts in the game's initial six minutes, capped by Marcus Lewis' transition trey off a Belmont turnover that staked EKU to a 17-2 lead.
The more battle-tested Bruins, in contrast, were quite shaky early on, as four of Belmont's first six posessions resulted in giveaways to help account for the big early deficit.
Belmont regrouped to score the next seven points, but the Colonels kept on hitting from the perimeter. Cosey buried two more triples to highlight an 11-5 sequence, with the last putting Eastern Kentucky up by a 28-14 count with eight minutes left in the half.
Consecutive threes by Caleb Chowbay and Windler brought Belmont back within single digits, and the margin was down to six when Bradds' scored inside for a 34-28 game inside the period's final minute. Cosey drained a jumper on the other end, however, to sent EKU into the break owning an eight-point cushion.
Walden accounted for the first five points of the second half as the Colonels stretched the lead further, but Belmont managed to reverse the momentum soon afterward. A 16-6 run, featuring a pair of threes from Windler, drew the Bruins even at 52-52 with 6 1/2 minutes left.
The OVC Tournament title was the Colonels' sixth, having also captured the event in 1950, 1955, 1979, 2005 and 2007 ... Eastern Kentucky shot 51-of-82 (62.2 percent) from beyond the arc over its three tournament games ... Belmont captured back-to-back Atlantic Sun Tournament championships in 2011 and 2012 before winning last year's OVC event in its first season as a conference member ... Walden's previous career high was 28 points, set at Jacksonville State on Jan. 19, 2013 ... Belmont's Reece Chamberlain finished with 13 points and seven assists.