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The Ohio Valley Conference Jumpstarts March Madness

College basketball fans rejoice its finally march, and the madness has begun. Friday night, was an electric start to tournament season, as the Ohio Valley Conference semi-finals stole headlines. First and Fan sideline reporter and head bracket-tologist, Matt Brown, was there to capture all the excitement, as Jacksonville upset #1 seeded Belmont.

It’s been 5 years since Jacksonville has sniffed a conference tournament win, and what a way to announce their postseason presence than to knock off the #1 seed. Belmont came out strong in the first half with a steady flow of scoring early on. RS Junior, Austin Luke, took the helm of the Bruins’ offense acting as a key set up guy with 4 assists and threading the needle down low on key drives. Evan Bradds dropped 16 going 6/13 and snagged 8 rebounds to keep Jacksonville’s defense on its toes.

The Gamecocks still stuck with Belmont the whole game, holding a one point lead at the half and ultimately pulling away in the final minute of play. Their keys to success were beyond the arch and winning the rebound battle down low. A three-point percentage of 54.5% is a difficult stat to contend with especially when you can’t get the ball back. 37 Gamecock rebounds to Belmont’s 27 was the difference maker that fueled a Jacksonville win.

When asked by Matt Brown about balancing Friday’s win with preparation for tomorrow’s final, Gamecock’s HC, Ray Harper, had this to say. “We talk about this everyday. We left Jacksonville with one thing in mind… we didn’t come here to play one game; we came here to win the whole deal.”

Despite an up and down season, Jacksonville has found its rhythm in the postseason and is poised to take on #2 seed UT Martin in the finals Saturday.

Plan on seeing a similar level of intensity in this match up. UT Martin’s victory over Murray State was almost a mirror image of Jacksonville’s. Both teams fight hard on defense and work to maintain possessions after the shot. Expect a lot of physicality and competitiveness on both sides of the ball, as both teams aim to acquire their first conference championship.

Gritty is an adequate way to describe the Ohio Valley Conference. As one announcer proclaimed, “This is blue collar, lunch pail style basketball.” In an era where defensive effort takes a back seat to offensive output, aka the west-coast approach, it’s nice to see some OVC grit get showcased on the national stage. Only time will tell, which team will advance further into the Madness. Tip off is Saturday night at 8pm EST, ESPN2.