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Conference tournament recap: Murray State is dancing, Loyola Chicago is not

The OVC Tournament was one for the ages.

NCAA Basketball: Murray State at Austin Peay Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official, we need a two-bid OVC. This week’s conference tournament featured the most entertaining games of the entire slate, and it would be a shame if Belmont (26-4) missed out for a random .500 major conference team. Ja Morant rewarded the NBA scouts in attendance with a 36-point performance. It was a back-and-forth game, but the Racers pulled away late and defeated Belmont 77-65.

That was just one highlight in a crazy night of conference tournament action. In Arch Madness, Bradley got revenge over Loyola Chicago and upset the No. 1 seed 53-51. As the scoreline indicated, the game was a total slugfest. The offenses were bad, the pace was agonizingly slow, but Bradley eventually edged ahead late and dared Loyola to score. The Ramblers could not score. Last year’s Final Four darlings are out. Northern Iowa upset No. 2 seed Drake thanks to a clutch shot from Wyatt Lohaus, setting up an interesting game for the MVC title on Sunday.

South Dakota State, the presumptive favorites in the Summit League, bowed out to No. 8 seed Western Illinois. It was by far the biggest upset of the week thus far. Mike Daum and South Dakota State had won nine straight Summit League Tournament games, making three-straight NCAA Tournaments. A week ago, Western Illinois lost 86-66 to South Dakota State, an improvement on a 100-58 loss earlier in the year. But the Jackrabbits fell behind early and could not mount a significant comeback. Western Illinois survived a flurry of buckets from David Jenkins and late-game miscues to win 79-76. The conference is now wide open for teams like Nebraska Omaha, Fort Wayne and North Dakota State. Nebraska Omaha did its part by taking down North Dakota 81-76 in a tight contest.

The craziness wasn’t over. In the America East, SUNY Binghamton stunned No. 2 seed Stony Brook with a monumental upset at Stony Brook. Like Western Illinois, Binghamton got out to a huge lead and hung on through a Stony Brook comeback. Binghamton hit 10 threes and took apart Stony Brook’s vaunted defense, paving the way for the biggest win for the program in years. Stony Brook’s loss should be No. 1 seed Vermont’s gain, as the Catamounts took care of business against lowly Maine. UMBC defeated Albany 62-54 and will avoid Stony Brook, instead taking on No. 4 seed Hartford, which dispatched UMass Lowell.

Those two huge upsets overshadowed a near-upset in the SoCon Tournament, as UNC-Greensboro survived a difficult test from No. 7 seed Samford. Furman, in a similar position, had no such troubles taking out Mercer. With UNC-Greensboro fighting for their tournament lives, this was a badly needed comeback win.

In the WCC, Pepperdine stunned San Francisco behind 26 points from Colbey Ross. In the last game of the night, San Diego upset BYU 80-57 with an excellent defensive performance.

The MAAC continued to be hyper-competitive, as Siena and Monmouth advanced after tight battles with Rider and Quinnipiac.

In the NEC, top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis (PA) will meet for the conference championship. Fairleigh Dickinson took out Robert Morris 66-62 and St. Francis eliminated LIU Brooklyn. James Madison eliminated Towson and UNC-Wilmington upset Elon in the CAA.