Tournament returning to Evansville

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Tournament returning to Evansville

Freshman guard Mack Smith gets off a shot in the second half of the Panthers’ OVC conference tournament opeing round game at the Ford Center in Evansville. The OVC Tournament will return to Evansville’s Ford Center in 2019 and 2020 the OVC announced Thursday.

Freshman guard Mack Smith gets off a shot in the second half of the Panthers’ OVC conference tournament opeing round game at the Ford Center in Evansville. The OVC Tournament will return to Evansville’s Ford Center in 2019 and 2020 the OVC announced Thursday.

Justin Brown

Freshman guard Mack Smith gets off a shot in the second half of the Panthers’ OVC conference tournament opeing round game at the Ford Center in Evansville. The OVC Tournament will return to Evansville’s Ford Center in 2019 and 2020 the OVC announced Thursday.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown

Freshman guard Mack Smith gets off a shot in the second half of the Panthers’ OVC conference tournament opeing round game at the Ford Center in Evansville. The OVC Tournament will return to Evansville’s Ford Center in 2019 and 2020 the OVC announced Thursday.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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After a successful first year of having the men’s and women’s basketball OVC Tournaments at Evansville’s Ford Center, the OVC Board of Presidents voted to have it return in 2019 and 2020.

The OVC announced that it would return in a press release on Thursday.

It was the first time the tournament was not held in Nashville since 2002.

The location of the stadium is closer for a majority of the OVC teams, which helped attendance sky rocket compared to Nashville.

Attendance for the championship game increased by about 3,000 people and the semifinal game increased by about 1,000 people.

The Panthers, who usually had close to a five-hour drive to Nashville, can now enjoy a shortened drive of two and a half hours to Evansville.

The men’s basketball team was in the tournament this season and coach Jay Spoonhour is happy about keeping it in Evansville.

“I thought the city did a really good job publicizing it and promoting it,” he said. “We got most of the coaches on TV talking about their teams. I like the arena. It’s just a much nicer place than the one in Nashville.”

The Ford Center opened in 2001 and houses the Evansville Purple Aces men’s basketball team and the Evansville Thunderbolts hockey team.

The Nashville Municipal Auditorium has been open since 1962.

“The arena (Ford Center) is pretty much state of the art,” Spoonhour said. “The locker rooms are all really nice. That makes a difference. It makes a difference for your kids in how they view it… There was a lot about Nashville that I really liked. Municipal is just old and has some upkeep issues.”

Although the tournament is much closer for Eastern fans to travel to  and watch their Panthers play, the team and the fans were not given a fair shot to see what attendance would be like.

There was a lot of blue in the stands for the first, with the fan bus Eastern provided helping the cause, but Eastern’s 8:30 p.m. start times for the first and second games did not help.

“It was just really hard for those folks to go back and forth,” Spoonhour said about the fan attendance.

He did say that he liked the attendance they had for both games.

“I don’t even know what time the band and everybody got back, but it was a late game anyway, then it started late and they were trying to go back and forth,” he said. “If you had a ball club that made some noise, I think you have a chance to get some folks to back and forth.”

To put it in perspective, Eastern’s games did not end till close to 11 p.m.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]