Eastern Kentucky gets NCAA berth after upsetting Belmont for OVC title
Corey Walden scored 22 of his career-high 29 points in the second half to help Eastern Kentucky upset top-seeded Belmont 79-73 Saturday night for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship and an NCAA tournament berth.
The Colonels (24-9) won their seventh straight game in clinching their first OVC tournament title since 2007 and their eighth trip to the NCAAs overall.
Glenn Cosey added 23 points for Eastern Kentucky. Tarius Johnson had 15 before fouling out.
Belmont (24-9) missed out on adding its second consecutive tournament title, and the Bruins will miss the NCAA tournament for just the third time in the past nine years and first since 2010.
J.J. Mann, the OVC player of the year, led Belmont with 18 points. Evan Bradds and Drew Windler each added 14, and Reece Chamberlin had 11.
Eastern Kentucky never trailed, and Belmont tied it up only twice with the last time at 54. The Colonels scored the next eight points and finished the game hitting 9 of 10 at the free throw line in the final 1:16.
Belmont had cruised through a season in which the Bruins won at North Carolina in November and went 14-2 in league play. Belmont came into the final having won seven straight and 12 of its last 13.
But Eastern Kentucky jumped on the Bruins from the start, scoring 17 of the game’s first 19 points. The Colonels hit six of their first seven shots with five beyond the arc, and Marcus Lewis became the fourth different player to knock down a 3 with 14:08 left putting Eastern Kentucky up 17-2.
They wound up hitting 11 of 22 3-pointers and shot 51.1 percent overall while holding Belmont to 46 percent.
Belmont didn’t score until Craig Bradshaw threw down a dunk with 16:20 to go, and Mann didn’t score until hitting a 3-pointer with 12:59 remaining. The Bruins also went nearly 6 minutes between field goals, spanning a 3-pointer by Windler with 6:38 left and a layup by Bradshaw inside the final minute. But they hit six of seven free throws to pull within 36-28 at halftime.
Walden scored the first 10 points of the second half for the Colonels as the Bruins worked to make a game of it. Belmont reeled off seven straight points keyed by a pair of steals by Mann, including his second that he finished with a layup to pull the Bruins within 41-35.
They finally tied it up at 52 with a 7-1 spurt capped by two free throws by Chamberlain. Eric Stutz hit two free throws for Eastern Kentucky, and Bradds tied it for the last time at 54 with a layup for the Bruins.
Then Cosey put Eastern Kentucky ahead to stay with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5:28 to go. Johnson added two free throws, then Walden knocked down a 3 for a 62-54 lead with 4:28 left. When Mann hit a 3 to pull Belmont within 63-59, Cosey hit another 3 with 1:35 to go, padding the Colonels’ lead.