NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Dave Loos gasped when senior Chris Horton went down with a sprained left ankle late in the first half.
Turns out the veteran coach needn’t have worried. His Austin Peay Governors had come too far to let injury or playing their fourth game in as many days stop them.
Freshman Jared Savage scored 24 points, hitting 8 of 14 from 3, as Austin Peay upset No. 2 seed UT Martin 83-73 Saturday night in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship earning an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
Austin Peay hit a school-record 16 3-pointers to help Loos celebrate his 69th birthday, and the Governors (18-17) won their sixth straight overall for their first OVC title since 2008 and fifth overall. This will be their sixth NCAA Tournament berth. They upset the league’s regular season champ to reach the final in a tournament where they had to win the final two of the regular season and get help to even earn the eighth and final seed.
"Best birthday present I have ever had without question, and these guys made it possible," Loos said. "So very appreciative."
Josh Robinson added 20 points, Khalil Davis 14 points, and John Murry 11 for the Governors.
Horton, the All-OVC senior, averaged 27.3 points and 16.3 rebounds through the first three games of this tournament but went down going for a rebound late in the first half and limped to the locker room to get taped up. Horton returned but was limited to eight points and seven rebounds.
So the Governors kept shooting away from outside.
"I wanted to say stop it, but they kept going in so we went on with it, and these guys were really good," Loos said.
The league’s Western Division champ, UT Martin (19-14) was looking for its first OVC tournament title. Coach Heath Schroyer said the Governors deserved to win.
"We tried every scheme we had in the book, I mean literally, and I really believe when we cut it to 10 with 5 minutes left, I thought we were going to come back," Schroyer said. "They just hit a back-breaking 3."
Twymond Howard led the Skyhawks with 24 points, Jacolby Mobley had 15, and Alex Anderson 14.
Then the team that should’ve been exhausted took control with a 19-2 run. Horton’s dunk with 11:38 left put the Governors ahead to stay at 14-13, and they led 38-33 at halftime.
Savage started the second half by hitting three straight 3s, and Robinson added another for a 12-4 run by the Governors to go up 50-37. The Skyhawks got within 78-70 on back-to-back 3s by Mobley with 1:39 left but couldn’t get closer.
"It’s just all confidence," Savage said. "Once you make the first one, you start rolling."
Austin Peay: The Govs shot better outside the arc (16 of 31, 51.6 percent) than they did inside (26 of 57, 49.1 percent). … Savage’s father, Jermaine, won an OVC title with Austin Peay in 1996. Horton’s father, Eddie, also played for the Governors in the mid-1970s.
UT Martin: The Skyhawks had won nine of their last 10. … The Skyhawks hit 16 3s twice this season but went 9 of 29 outside the arc. … The Skyhawks had a 32-20 edge in the paint and scored 19 points off Austin Peay’s 13 turnovers. They also had a 19-4 edge on fast-break points.
RALLY FOR RHYAN: Loos’ granddaughter, Rhyan, had surgery Wednesday for a neuroblastoma, and the Governors had the phrase "Rally for Rhyan" on the back of their warmup shirts for the 5-year-old girl. Supporters also wore that phrase on bracelets. Rhyan’s father, Brad, is an assistant coach at Missouri, and Loos said his son watched the title game on TV.
Austin Peay: NCAA Tournament.
UT Martin: Waiting and hoping for a postseason invitation.