Go back

Govs advance to NCAA tournament

NASHVILLE – For the first time since 2008, Austin Peay is dancing towards the NCAA Tournament after hoisting its fifth Ohio Valley Conference Championship trophy.

NASHVILLE – For the first time since 2008, Austin Peay is dancing towards the NCAA Tournament after hoisting its fifth Ohio Valley Conference Championship trophy.

The Cinderella story adds another chapter following an 83-73 victory over UT Martin, Saturday, at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium. On his 69th birthday, head coach Dave Loos and his team did the unthinkable – completing a miraculous four-day run to become the first no. 8 seed to ever be crowned OVC champs.

When senior center Chris Horton fell to the hardwood clutching his lower leg at the 4:52 mark of the first half, the arena was silent. After waiting his entire career to merely reach the OVC Tournament, everyone wearing red gasped, including Loos, as Horton was helped off the court. He would return less than two minutes later, but the Skyhawks took advantage of the situation, cutting the deficit to two with the Govs leading 38-33 at halftime.

But after carrying his squad to victories over three fellow in-state teams - Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State and Belmont – Horton took a backseat to sharpshooter Jared Savage. The freshman missed his first four attempts from three-point territory, but went a sparkling 8-of-10 from that point forward to tally a career-high 24 points, along with a team-high nine rebounds. Savage fell one three-pointer shy of tying the single-game school record.

As a team, Austin Peay did manage to rewrite the record book with its lights-out display, finishing with 16 three-pointers. The previous season-high was 12, which ironically came against UT Martin, Feb. 4, a game in which the Govs lost on an overtime buzzer-beater.

Playing in their first championship game since 2009, the Govs showed fatigue early, especially in their long-range shooting as APSU opened just 1-of-6. But the Govs settled down and started finding some offensive rhythm. At the second media timeout (11:59) they had cut it one, 13-12, and took their first lead on a lob from Khalil Davis to Horton for a slam. Savage then connected on his first three to give APSU a 17-13 advantage, and did it again from far above the top of the circle for a 20-13 advantage.

The Governors never trailed again.

To begin the second half, Savage could not be contained, sinking three consecutive treys to push APSU's lead to 12 with 17:30 on the clock. Over Austin Peay's winning streak, Savage has grown wise beyond his years, with a confidence level not seen by most freshmen in the country. Since Savage entered the starting lineup, which moved Josh Robinson to handle point guard duties, the Govs are undefeated (6-0).

Despite a cold-night shooting from the field (4-of-14), Robinson played an instrumental role for the Govs offensively. The St. Louis native was the team's leading scorer in the second half with 16 points (finishing with 20 overall), going 8-of-10 at the free throw stripe to help preserve the lead.

At the 10:29 mark, a layup by Horton increased the margin to 19 points, the same number APSU trailed by before rallying to upset Tennessee State in the quarterfinals. The Skyhawks managed to trim it to an eight-point game with 1:39 to play, but Robinson rolled off five-straight points at the foul line to start the celebration.

As the final horn sounded, Robinson launched the basketball into the bright lights, only to be caught by Horton. The senior hugged it before joining teammates at center court, and never let it go. Horton was named OVC Tournament Player of the Year after compiling 90 points and 57 rebounds, while Savage (19-of-34 3FGs in tourney) and Robinson (73 points) landed on the All-Tournament team.

The Governors will await their NCAA Tournament location on Selection Sunday, which takes place next weekend. Stay tuned for information on a watch party in Clarksville.