Sports, Thrill of Victory

OVC Championship Preview: Can Austin Peay do the unthinkable?

04 MAR 2016: Austin Peay players celebrating their 97-96 overtime win over No. 1 Belmont in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire)

Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos will celebrate his 69th birthday at Municipal Auditorium.

On the surface, it seems like a strange place for birthday festivities. But for Loos and his team, there’s few places they’d rather be on Saturday evening.

That’s because the Governors are one win away from punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

Yes, the same Governors team that needed a win in their regular season finale against Southeast Missouri to even have the opportunity to qualify for the OVC tournament.

Dave Loos has Austin Peay one away from an improbably NCAA tournament bid. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Dave Loos has Austin Peay one away from an improbably NCAA tournament bid. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Yes, the same Governors team that finished with a losing record in the conference and were an afterthought heading into this week.

But now? Austin Peay has won five straight games, with their last three coming against three of the top 5 seeds in the OVC.

Welcome to March.

Of course, it was Friday’s semifinal victory over Belmont that raised the most eyebrows.

In what can only be described as an instant classic, Loos led his squad to an incredible 97-96 win over the OVC regular season champions.

It was Austin Peay’s first win over Belmont since the Bruins joined the conference back in 2012.

Even people that had no rooting interest and that hadn’t watched an OVC game all season couldn’t turn away from this one. It was back and forth the entire way, and once again, it was Austin Peay’s resiliency that would allow it to be in position to win the game at the end.

And after Craig Bradshaw’s final shot that would have won the game for Belmont was ruled to be after the buzzer sounded, that’s exactly what the Govs did.

It was a total team effort. Chris Horton had yet another sensational performance with 30 points and 16 rebounds, which added more buzz to the fantastic week that he’s already had. Horton scored 37 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in Austin Peay’s quarterfinal win over Tennessee Tech on Wednesday.

But it wasn’t just Horton. Josh Robinson had 25 points, and Jared Savage dropped in 21 on the night. Both players have hit key shots throughout the tournament, and it was no different in the win over the Bruins.

However, there’s still work left to do for the team that no one thought had a chance. And that work comes in the form of No. 2 seed UT Martin.

The Skyhawks raced past No. 3 Morehead State in the other Friday semifinal, scoring an 83-70 win in the nightcap.

Jacolby Mobley led UT Martin with 22 points, while Twymond Howard posted a double-double with 21 points and 10 boards.

After an eight-game winning streak during the stretch run of the regular season, it was clear that Heath Schroyer’s team would be a favorite to win the OVC tournament.

And UT Martin will be the favorite in Saturday’s championship game. The Skyhawks are the No. 2 seed, the Governors are the No. 8 seed. We clearly understand who the favorite is.

UT Martin head coach Heath Schroyer will try to lead his team into the NCAA tournament with a win over Austin Peay on Saturday.

UT Martin head coach Heath Schroyer will try to lead his team into the NCAA tournament with a win over Austin Peay on Saturday.

However, as we’ve seen throughout this tournament, seeding means nothing.

Perhaps we should have known that some magic was in the air when No. 8 Murray State knocked off No. 1 UT Martin on the women’s side of the bracket in the very first game of the tournament.

Now, we enter championship Saturday with eighth-seeded Austin Peay looking to take it several steps further by winning the entire thing.

In case you needed another compelling reason to watch, the last time these two teams met back in mid-February, Mobley hit a 22-footer at the buzzer to give the Skyhawks an improbable 85-84 win in Clarksville.

You know that the Governors will be trying to get that one back. Not only for the opportunity to capture an unlikely NCAA tournament appearance, but also for their head coach.

Loos has been through a lot this season. His five-year-old granddaughter, Rhyan, is currently battling cancer at a medical center in New York. It has undoubtedly been a very trying period for him and his entire family. Loos himself said that basketball has been like a therapy to him during these tough times.

A win on Saturday won’t erase all of that. But you can bet that it’ll be one of the best birthday presents that he’s ever received.

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