By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
EKU’s Corey Walden has a well-earned reputation as one of the best defenders in the Ohio Valley Conference.
He also has the ability to be an impact player offensively — and he showcased that last weekend in Nashville.
The junior guard led the Colonels on both ends of the court as they won three games in three days to win their first OVC Tournament title in seven years. Walden scored 70 points in the tournament (23.3 points a game) and scored a career-high 29 points in Saturday’s win over Belmont in the championship game.
Following the 79-73 title-game victory, Walden was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“It just came down to toughness on our behalf,” Walden said after the win over Belmont. “Even after they tied it, we never felt like we were in trouble. We just stayed with it. We knew they were going to make a run and we just had to pick up our defense again and stop it. It was good to stop it before they ever took the lead.”
Last Monday, Walden was named the 2013-14 OVC Defensive Player of the Year.
The junior finished second in the conference during the regular season in steals and was one of the big reasons that the Colonels led the OVC in scoring defense (70 ppg) and scoring margin (+8.7 points a game).
Walden’s 62 steals during the regular season ranked 25th in the nation.
In Nashville, the junior was a force offensively.
In the quarterfinals against SEMO, Walden hit six-of-seven field goal attempts and finished with 17 points. In the semifinal win over Murray State on Friday night, was 9-of-14 from the field and tied his season-high with 24 points.
EKU rushed out to a 17-2 lead over Belmont in the championship game, but Walden delivered offensively late when the Bruins got back in the game. The junior scored 22 points in the second half as the Colonels pulled away after Belmont pulled even at 54-54.
Walden was 8-of-13 from the field in the title game, hit 3-of-7 three-pointers and was 10-of-11 from the free throw line — including a streak of 10 straight late in the game. He also had seven assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Walden scored seven of EKU’s final 11 points of the game.
“We just stayed with it,” Walden said. “We just had to control their run and play good defense”
In the three games in Nashville, Walden was 23-of-35 from the field (65 percent) and was 19-of-21 at the free throw line.
He finished the regular season averaging 13.2 points a game.
EKU’s Tarius Johnson and Glenn Cosey were named to the All-OVC Tournament Team, along with Walden, Belmont’s J.J. Mann and Murray’s Cameron Payne.