Notebook: Murray State, Belmont clash in important OVC week

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Notebook: Murray State, Belmont clash in important OVC week

Eastern junior Josiah Wallace backs down an Austin Peay defender in the Panthers 85-83 win over the Governors Saturday in Lantz Arena. Eastern is now 4-2 in the OVC after the win.

Eastern junior Josiah Wallace backs down an Austin Peay defender in the Panthers 85-83 win over the Governors Saturday in Lantz Arena. Eastern is now 4-2 in the OVC after the win.

Karina Delgado

Eastern junior Josiah Wallace backs down an Austin Peay defender in the Panthers 85-83 win over the Governors Saturday in Lantz Arena. Eastern is now 4-2 in the OVC after the win.

Karina Delgado

Karina Delgado

Eastern junior Josiah Wallace backs down an Austin Peay defender in the Panthers 85-83 win over the Governors Saturday in Lantz Arena. Eastern is now 4-2 in the OVC after the win.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Eastern men’s basketball team earned an important victory over Austin Peay Saturday, showing that not only can the Panthers play with the tougher OVC teams, but that they are deserving of sitting in the top half of the conference.

The OVC is split so far in two perfectly even halves.

Six teams have either an even or winning record, while the other six have losing records.

Eastern finds itself tied for fourth with Belmont, as both have a 4-2 conference record so far. Just behind them, and rounding out the top half, is Morehead State with a 3-3 OVC record.

Preseason favorite Belmont is tied at 4-2 with Eastern, after losing twice already to Jacksonville State.

Speaking of Jacksonville State, the Gamecocks are tied with Murray State for first place with perfect 6-0 conference records.

The Gamecocks were predicted to finish third in the conference this season, but have stunned followers of the conference by beating Belmont twice.

Both the Gamecocks and the Racers will have their first-place statuses threatened this week.

The Racers will have two home games, but their first one of the week, Thursday against Belmont, will be their toughest conference challenge yet.

The Bruins are, on paper, at a disadvantage, especially being on the road against Murray State and Ja Morant. But having lost twice and facing not being the top seed in the conference tournament could will the Bruins to an important win.

Jacksonville State will be on the road, already somewhat of a disadvantage, and even though they have better records than their opponents, they will need to play well to walk away with two wins.

On Thursday, the Gamecocks face Eastern Kentucky who, although being 2-4 in conference play, have the OVC’s second-leading scorer, Nick Mayo, who averages 23.1 points per game.

Saturday, Jacksonville State visits Morehead State, who will be threatening on its home court and looking to make a statement after an average start to conference play.

Eastern has a chance to take sole possession of fourth place this weekend. Belmont will have to face Murray State on the road and then play at Austin Peay, which will not be an easy task.

Eastern has the perfect schedule to take over the fourth place spot, visiting last-place Tennessee-Martin and 1-5 Southeast Missouri.

The remaining two teams in the top half of the conference will likely be able to retain their spots in the top half of the conference.

Before hosting Belmont, which is a winnable game, Austin Peay hosts Tennessee State, who is 2-4 in OVC play.

Morehead State will have a tough time defeating Jacksonville State Saturday, though it is a home game, but should have an easier time defeating 2-4 Tennessee Tech Thursday.

But the big game to watch this weekend will be the Murray State-Belmont matchup.

The two teams who were predicted to finish first and second will be clashing, with Ja Morant for Murray State and Dylan Windler of Belmont leading their teams’ charges. 

For Belmont, a win would be redemption after losing to Jacksonville State at home to open conference play, and it would show the preseason poll-makers that the Bruins are still a top-three team in the OVC.

For Murray State, it would be a win to verify its position as the current favorite to win the conference title.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]