By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Eastern Kentucky University Colonels are OVC champions and are headed to the Big Dance.
Hot early shooting propelled EKU to a thrilling 79-73 win over defending champion Belmont Saturday in the championship game of the OVC Tournament.
The Colonels receive the OVC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We knew this was going to be a tough, competitive basketball game. I’m really proud of our team. We won three games in three nights and we beat the three best teams in the league in three nights,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said. “It’s amazing how our team came together.”
The Colonels hit four consecutive three pointers to open the game and led by as many as 15 points in the first half.
But, the Bruins chipped away at the lead in the second half and eventually caught up, tying it at 54-54 with 5:51 remaining.
But after a timeout, the Colonels regrouped and promptly answered with an 8-0 run to regain the momentum.
As they did all night, Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden were the catalysts, knocking down big three-pointers around a pair of Tarius Johnson free throws to put the Colonels back up 62-54.
Cosey said he knew he needed to make a play and there was no panic in the team after Belmont tied the game.
“It was a big shot, but it felt good at the release, it felt great,” Cosey said. “We didn’t panic. I just knew I needed to stay focused and keep my team calm because we knew we were still going to win it, and we got the job done.”
“Glen has a lot of composure and he hit that big three pointer, he’s got very cold water running through his veins,” Neubauer said.
The Colonels got big plays from throughout the lineup the entire night and the bench once again came through as Jeff Johnson, Deverin Muff and Orlando Williams played extremely well.
“It was fun. This was one of the most intense games I’ve ever played in. Everyone was giving it their all, it was a total team effort. I’m just so proud of these guys,” EKU senior Jeff Johnson said.
Muff came up with a huge blocked shot on a Belmont three-point attempt with four minutes remaining, then Eric Stutz picked up a block on a layup attempt 30 seconds later to ward off Belmont rallies.
J.J. Mann pulled Belmont to within 63-59 with 2:49 remaining. It was 65-61 with two minutes left when Cosey stuck a dagger in the Bruins’ hearts with his fifth three-pointer of the game to extend the lead out to 68-61 with 1:39 left.
Walden and Cosey then put the game away down the stretch with clutch free throws.
Walden led all scorers in the game with 29 points, including 10-of-11 free throws. Cosey finished with 23 points on 5-of-8 shooting on three-pointers and Tarius Johnson added 15 points and five rebounds.
Marcus Lewis only had four points, but he played great defense on the Belmont outside shooters all night. Stutz finished with five points and four rebound and was a warrior in the paint for EKU.
None of these Colonels have ever been to the NCAA Tournament, but Cosey said it’s something he’s dreamed about his entire life.
“We’re going to the Big Dance. I can’t believe it,” Cosey said. “It’s something that every player dreams of and I can’t wait to go. I’m ready to go right now.”