Normally, to set the tone, we open with some kind of faux-deep poem, or a pop culture reference, or something like that.
Unfortunately, best I can tell, the subject of cockfighting has never made it into the lexicon of mainstream America. The closest thing I can think of is that scene in Mad Men where Sterling Cooper puts a traditionally-dressed Chinese man with a chicken in Pete Campbell’s office as a “you just got back from your honeymoon” gag, or a scene from the movie Snatch where one of the bad guys owns a dogfighting ring. Chicken fights are few and far between. Maybe the animated movie Chicken Run would fit, but that’s by a British company.
We open with that macabre idea because the Jacksonville State Gamecocks did the damn thing last night. Belmont is an extremely good basketball team. They lost just one game in the Ohio Valley Conference this season en route to the regular season championship and were heavy favorites (81% via KenPom) to move on to the conference championship. Instead, for back to back years, they will be accepting an auto-invite to the NIT, which can only be seen as a disappointment.
But let’s talk about Jacksonville State. Its gameplan was, essentially, to take bad shots and hope they were hot. Hoo, buddy, were they ever. They shot 52% from the field and, having watched just about all of that game, I can tell you that no more than five of those were efficient shots. They were hitting fadeaway elbow jumpers at a rate that would even convince Daryl Morey that Evan Turner is right and the midrange is the future. They were hitting 30-footers, tough shots in the lane, and they swallowed Belmont at the three point line.
The Bruins finished the game 8-of-38 from beyond the arc. That is a problem. Jacksonville State deserves a lot of credit for that. Its prize is a spot in OVC title game. Just one game from glory.
Their opponent? Another NMTC member. Yes, that’s right, no matter who wins, we do. The 2nd seed UT-Martin SkyHawks played the 7th seed Murray State, but KenPom still saw the SkyHawks as underdogs. That wasn’t made any easier by having one of their best players and their best sharpshooter, Jacolby Mobley, come down with an illness before the game. He completely skipped the team shootaround and never looked right on the court. He played just 22 minutes and was a frigid 2/9 from the floor.
His teammates stepped up for him.
You probably don’t know Murray State guard Jonathan Stark, but maybe you should. He came into last night’s game averaging 22 points and 5 dimes a night. He can take over any game. UT-Martin shut. Him. Down. Stark couldn’t find anywhere to operate and finished with just 11 points, including going just 2/9 from three. UT-Martin won this game on the defensive end. If Mobley can get right for the championship game, it would be hard to bet against them.
The good vibes didn’t stop in the Ohio Valley. Two NMTC teams played 8-9 games yesterday, but one of those team clearly deserves top billing.
THAT’S RIGHT WE GOT A FOUNDING MEMBER UPDATE [RAP SIRENS, FLAME EMOJIS]. WHAT, YOU THOUGHT TROOP RESPECTING HOURS WERE OVER? TROOP RESPECTING HOURS ARE EVERY HOUR. THE CITADEL BULLDOGS ARE HERE AND THEY’RE READY TO BUST IT ALL THE WAY UP. YOU TRY STEALING THIS VALOR AND THE VALOR STIKES BACK, YOU HEARD?
There’s no party like a Citadel party, because a Citadel party goes until you puke and pass out. OK, there are actually a lot of parties like Citadel parties. But, like I warned you yesterday, The Citadel’s style of basketball is, extremely good as hell. Their average possession lasted just 14 seconds. Nearly half their shots were from three and they turned it over 18 times. The Bulldogs lit their hair on fire, ran around the court for 40 minutes, and somehow ended up with a 6-point, 78-72 victory against Western Carolina, one of the two cardinal direction Carolinas that isn’t real. Shameful.
Since we lost our dearest friends, the Stetson Hatters, we have had to turn to the Youngstown State Penguins to carry forward the mantle of “Best Never Made The Tournament Club Mascot.” The Penguins did not disappoint.
The whole roster caught fire. Five different Penguins finished in double figures, and two, Matt Donlan and Braun Hartfield, topped 20 and combined to go 9/17 from deep. Cleveland State was not ready for the Penguins’ fury. Youngstown State poured in 51 points in the second half. That’s how you build some momentum for the next game. The Penguins will need it.
Alas, it was not all sunshine in roses in the club today. The Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs were not supposed to beat top-seeded Winthrop in the Big South. Winthrop is very good. Gardner-Webb is significantly less so. But Gardner-Webb was right in it. They were leading for most of the game. LaQuincy Rideau messed around and dropped 30. But Winthrop pulled ahead late. The Runnin’ Bulldogs, it seemed, could run no more. BUT HOLD ON.
NEVER FLOP SON, HOWS THAT THREE TASTE IN YOUR EYE??????? pic.twitter.com/A4shJ6l5G9— NMTC: BIRDS OF PREY (@BenG412) March 4, 2017
BOOM YOU FLOP, I POP. We headed to overtime, and once again Gardner-Webb had a chance to tie it up late. This time though, needing two foul shots to tie, the Bulldogs only hit one. That would do it. So close, and yet so, so far. We’ll see you back next season.
Yesterday’s MVP: Malcolm Drumwright (Jacksonville State)
21 points (8/12 FGs, 3/5 3FGs), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
There were players with gaudier statlines last night, but Drumwright’s Gamecocks pulled the biggest upset of the night, and they needed every one of those 21 points to get it done. Drumwright almost doubled his season average 12.3 points per game, and despite usually being a bit of a chucker (10.6 FGA per game, 41% FG%), he was hyper efficient, picking his spots, and hitting everything he took. He’ll need another big game to finish the job tomorrow.
Ohio Valley Championship Game
8:00 p.m. (ESPN2) - UT-Martin SkyHawks vs. Jacksonville State Gamecocks
One of these teams will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time. It is now guaranteed. IT’S BIRD OF PREY VS BIRD OF PREY, WINNER GETS THE TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN, LOSER HAS TO BE AN ANNOYING SIDEKICK IN AN ANIMATED MOVIE. Case in point: the bird from Moana. YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE THE BIRD FROM MOANA. On Inside NU, we’re not afraid to make references to animated children’s films. Are you mad? Go watch this game, you’ll feel better about yourself.
2:30 p.m. (NBCSN Regional): (4) Elon Phoenix (51% to win) vs. (5) William and Mary Tribe
It’s the battle of two NMTC veterans as Elon and Founders William and Mary face off in the first round of the Colonial Tournament. It’s a shame both teams are playing each other, and it would have been much easier for both team to take individual shots at UNC-Wilmington, but that’s how it goes. This game is a complete toss-up. Both teams are solid (Elon hung in with Duke for a half earlier this year, William and Mary has that win over UNC-Wilmington), and it should be a fun one. Either way, an NMTC team will survive.
12:00 p.m. (ESPN3): (1) UNC Greensboro Spartans vs. (9) The Citadel Bulldogs (15% chance to win)
The other remaining Founder, The Citadel, will face the unquestioned dominant team in the conference over 2016-17, the UNC Greensboro Spartans. The Spartans have won seven straight and already beaten The Citadel twice this season. They are expecting to make the NCAA Tournament, although they will have to probably get through either East Tennessee State or Furman to do so. The Citadel could definitely give them a fight, but it will be tough to stop the Spartans’ Francis Alonso, who has a 60.3 eFG% as a shooting guard. Not bad.
7:00 p.m. (ESPN3): (1) South Dakota Coyotes (86% chance to win) vs. (8) Western Illinois Leathernecks
That’s right, we have more NMTC on NMTC crime tomorrow as No. 1 seed South Dakota and No. 8 seed Western Illinois do battle in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Western Illinois lost to the Coyotes twice in the regular season, and although I am still rooting for the Leathernecks, it would be far, far better for South Dakota to breeze their way to the title game, in which it will likely play a tough North Dakota State team. While you shouldn’t technically care who wins this game, it’s fine to root against an upset in the Summit quarterfinal.
5:30 p.m. (ESPN3): (1) Oakland Grizzlies vs. (9) Youngstown State Penguins (12% chance to win)
Youngstown State grabbed a huge win over Cleveland State, but Oakland is at an entirely different level. Of all the NMTC games tomorrow, this is the likeliest to become a blowout, as Oakland has won its last nine Horizon League games, including two easy wins over Youngstown State. The Penguins need a miracle if they want to march onto March. This is a pun on March of the Penguins. It’s funny, because wordplay is funny and we cannot stop giving free advertising to movies marketed to eight-year-olds.
Teams that will be back next year:
St. Francis (NY)
There’s always next year!