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Ohio Valley Tournament quarterfinals recap: A Cinderella emerges

Murray State and Jacksonville State both have a spot in the semifinals.

NCAA Basketball: Jacksonville State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

After a sensational first night of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament—one in which we witnessed two overtime games—the law of averages would suggest that we would be in store for a fairly routine night of action on Thursday. Yes, I’m aware that the law of averages is bogus, but just let me finish, okay?

Anyway, Thursday night’s OVC Tournament matchups seemed to be playing out that way (at least at first, that is). The first game, a matchup between 5-seed Southeast Missouri and 4-seed Jacksonville State, was a complete rout. After such an uneventful game, many were left hoping for something more from the next one: a meeting between bitter rivals Murray State and Morehead State.

Their expectations were met.

(5) SEMO 51, (4) Jacksonville State 74

If Wednesday night’s win over Tennessee State demonstrated anything for us, it was that Denzel Mahoney has the ability to carry this SEMO team by himself. Unfortunately, that onus is on him far too often, and he cannot be expected to do it all. In a game where he scored 20 points and shot fairly well, he couldn’t get much of a scoring boost at all from his teammates. That poor shooting, coupled with the Gamecocks’ dominance on the glass, spelled doom for the Redhawks.

Much credit must be given to Jacksonville State, a team that looked absolutely dominant in Ray Harper’s OVC Tournament debut. They were quite efficient from the field, putting up a balanced scoring attack against SEMO’s 265th-ranked defense, according to KenPom.

For the Gamecocks, getting this first OVC Tournament win since 2012 is an exceptionally big deal, and it’s one that has room to grow even larger with each passing day.

Jacksonville State will play top-seeded Belmont Friday night at 7:30pm ET.

(7) Murray State 75, (3) Morehead State 69

The most fun on Thursday night was had by viewers of this rivalry matchup, the 160th all-time meeting between the two programs.

From the outset, it was clear that the Racers were going to play with the same formula that spurred them on past Tennessee Tech in the first round: Give the ball to Jonathan Stark. And to no surprise, it worked.

While Stark might not have taken 40 shots like he did in Wednesday night’s victory, he was certainly a more efficient 11-25, putting up 37 points on one of the OVC’s worst defenses.

Despite Stark’s 18 first half points, the Racers still trailed by seven going into the break, a deficit that was manageable given the fact that Murray trailed by as many as 14 early on in the half.

In the second half, it took a while for Murray State to find its rhythm, but once they got in a groove, it was game over. A 24-8 run over the final nine minutes of gameplay sealed the deal for the Racers, and Morehead State—one of only three OVC teams to win 10 games in conference play—was sent packing.

Murray State now has a semifinals matchup with intra-division rival UT Martin, the OVC’s 2-seed. The two will face off Friday night at 9:30pm ET.

The spirited comeback and subsequent victory against 3-seed Morehead State by Murray State—the tournament’s 7-seed—has cemented the Racers’ legacy as this year’s OVC Cinderella. With just two more wins, they will have secured their 30th straight winning season and a spot in the tournament, all while replicating Austin Peay’s miracle 2016 run.

There’s no reason to believe that they can’t.