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OVC Notebook: Belmont still team to beat in Ohio Valley

Freshman+Karle+Pace+brings+the+ball+up+the+court+in+Eastern%E2%80%99s+75-66+loss+to+Austin+Peay+Saturday+in+Lantz+Arena.+Eastern+is+1-13+in+OVC+Play.
Freshman Karle Pace brings the ball up the court in Eastern’s 75-66 loss to Austin Peay Saturday in Lantz Arena. Eastern is 1-13 in OVC Play.

Freshman Karle Pace brings the ball up the court in Eastern’s 75-66 loss to Austin Peay Saturday in Lantz Arena. Eastern is 1-13 in OVC Play.

Karina Delgado

Karina Delgado

Freshman Karle Pace brings the ball up the court in Eastern’s 75-66 loss to Austin Peay Saturday in Lantz Arena. Eastern is 1-13 in OVC Play.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

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For the past two seasons, the OVC has been separated into two tiers of teams; Belmont and everyone else.

Belmont won its 39th consecutive conference game after knocking off an ailing Tennessee Tech team 68-60 on Saturday, and looms over the rest of the conference with a 14-0 conference record this season.

It has been 728 days since the last time the Bruins lost a conference game and its streak of dominance in the OVC is the nation’s second-longest streak only behind the UConn women’s program’s 94-game win streak in the Big East.

As the Bruins continue to roll through the OVC with seemingly little resistance, for the first time in program history, the Bruins earned an AP top 25 ranking in the week 15 rankings.

Belmont is now 24th in the country, making them one of two mid-major programs in the top 25, with the other being No. 19 Green Bay.

No other OVC team has been in the top 25 since Tennessee Tech in 1992.

While the Bruins sit comfortably at the top of the conference standings and celebrate their national ranking, their uncontested control of the OVC begs the question of not only can anyone stop them, but if so, who?

In the preseason, the team that was given the biggest chance to compete with Belmont was Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

However, in the two games the Cougars and Bruins have played each other this season, Belmont has made it clear the conference title is its to lose.

The Bruins outscored the Cougars by a combined 39 points in those two games, and if it says anything about how good Southern Illinois-Edwardsville is, the two losses to Belmont are its only two conference losses of the season.

Outside of 14-0 Belmont and 12-2 Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, the rest of the OVC has spent a majority of the season beating up on each other for the remaining six tournament spots.

Recently however, the one exception to the battle royale happening in the conference has been Tennessee-Martin, which moved its conference record to 10-4, winning its sixth game in a row, after beating Southeast Missouri 72-65 on Saturday.

Jacksonville State and Morehead State both failed to create any separation between each other in the standings, as both went 1-1 over the weekend, adding another chapter to their season-long position battle in the conference standings.

Jacksonville State has beaten the Eagles both times they have played this season, meaning they hold any potential tie-breaker in seeding for the tournament.

The Gamecocks certainly have an easier remaining schedule, as Morehead State still must face Belmont and Tennessee-Martin one more time before the season ends.

Southeast Missouri occupies the seventh seed in the tournament race and is falling in the standing after losing its third straight game Saturday to Tennessee-Martin.

The Redhawks dive in the standings bodes well for Austin Peay, which now has a two-game lead for the sixth seed in the conference tournament with a 7-7 record.

The six seed is an important one, as attaining it means avoiding a first-round date with either Belmont or Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the first round.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]

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OVC Notebook: Belmont still team to beat in Ohio Valley