College basketball analysts love to talk about how hard it is to beat a team three times in the same season. True or not, Jacksonville State’s 65-59 Ohio Valley Tournament upset of top-seeded Belmont makes a good case for the old adage.
On Friday, all of those predictions proved to be wrong.
From the outset, it seemed as if something was just off for Belmont. Here the Bruins were facing a Jacksonville State team that is basically middle-of-the-road in both adjusted offense and adjusted defense on KenPom. In no way were they supposed to really hang with — or beat, for that matter — a Belmont team that is considered one of the best mid-majors in the country. This is a Belmont squad that has only lost one OVC game all season.
They were missing all kinds of shots, and it was against a Jacksonville State defense that hasn’t been all that exceptional this season. There are many stats that one could point to as a reason for Belmont’s loss, but the biggest could be three-point shooting. For a team that hits about 34 percent of its threes, Friday’s performance wasn’t near good enough.
Just take a look:
The dagger for the Gamecocks came at the 2:17 mark as Malcolm Drumwright nailed a three to extend the lead to seven points. By that point, the damage was done; Belmont simply could not recover.
Above all, this game was especially brutal for Bruins senior Evan Bradds, who has now suffered disappointing losses in the OVC semifinals in consecutive years. He is a two-time OVC Player of the Year, but unfortunately won’t get to try and pull off the NCAA Tournament upset that we know he is capable of. He will have to settle for Belmont’s automatic invite to the NIT.
Much credit must be given to Jacksonville State and Greg Tucker, who scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting. The Gamecocks have clearly harnessed some of the conference tournament sorcery that coach Ray Harper has wielded in the past, using it to power their way into the championship game. If you don’t believe me regarding Harper’s mystical postseason abilities, just take a look at his first two years at Western Kentucky; he even beat top-seeded UAB last year with an eight-seeded Hilltoppers team!
The Gamecocks have set themselves up for a Saturday night conference title matchup with either Murray State or UT Martin.
They will be playing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.