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2014 OVC Championship Game Recap: Eastern Kentucky Shoots Out Lights to Bounce Belmont

Eastern Kentucky came out of the locker room on fire from the 3-point line and kept the heat on Belmont for 40 minutes to earn the Ohio Valley Conference title, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It began with a blitz, fitting for a team named after a military rank. If the 3-pointer is the great equalizer in college basketball, then it is also the thing that can kill your spirits before the game has even really began.

Eastern Kentucky used that to their advantage Saturday night, coming out of the gates with four straight 3-pointers and dropping Belmont into a 12-point deficit. It was so bad that Rick Byrd had to call a timeout just to make sure he still had five players on the floor.

It was heart-breaking for all of the Belmont fans in attendance. How could this be happening to this team that had dominated every league it had played in for half of a decade?

And the lead just kept growing and it was thanks to that 3-pointer, again and again. This was how the Colonels made it here and this was how they ultimately finished off Belmont.

The final score read 79-73, and Eastern Kentucky was back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007, breaking Belmont's three-year run of making the dance stretching back to its time in the Atlantic Sun.

It wasn't all rosy for Eastern Ketucky though. Just like in the semifinals when they let Murray State get its feet back under it, the Colonels allowed the Bruins to feel the momentum swing their way.

And for a brief moment it looked like that momentum was going to carry Belmont to yet another championship.

The Bruins' J.J. Mann knocked the ball away from Tarius Johnson with a little more than six minutes remaining in the second half. Johnson and Mann's momentum carried them into one another and Mann went flying through the air.

Somehow the Belmont senior kept control of the basketball that he had batted away. Somehow he got up and got it to Craig Bradshaw. And somehow the Bruins drew another foul and went to the line to tie the game against Eastern Kentucky.

The improbable comeback had happened, and it seemed very permanent. But it was just an illusion, highlighted by the fact that no matter how hard it seemed that Belmont was trying to comeback, they just weren't executing like the team that had taken its divison during the regular season.

All it took was a moment for Eastern Kentucky to shake away the cobwebs and take back control.

It was Glenn Cosey (23 points), and then Corey Walden (29 points), and then Cosey (He made five!) again. The duo put on a clinic from behind the arc, including the first one from Cosey that seemed to come from halfcourt line, he was feeling it so well.
Belmont attempted one last comeback, a stretch that tested Eastern Kentucky and made them actually make free throw after free throw. It extended the final minute and postponed the ultimate celebration for the Colonels for at least 10 minutes.

But in the end it was the Colonels donning the grey championship shirts, with maroon highlights. It was Walden hoisting the Tournament MVP award, instead of Belmont's J.J. Mann (18 points). And it was Jeff Neubauer picking up the OVC Championship gold record, this being Nashville after all.

Eastern Kentucky becomes team No. 2 into the NCAA Tournament, joining Harvard which clinched the Ivy League on Friday night.

The big boys better start figuring out how to defend that 3-point line now.