The Richmond Register

Sports

March 13, 2014

OVC BASKETBALL: Colonels' bench unsung heroes of OVC Tournament

RICHMOND — There were a lot of heroes on the floor during the Colonels’ impressive run to the OVC Championship last week in Nashville.

Corey Walden was named the tournament’s most valuable player for his efforts in the Colonels’ three wins.

Glenn Cosey and Tarius Johnson were selected to the All-Tournament team for their outstanding play.

Eric Stutz and Marcus Lewis, the other two starters for the Colonels, played impressively all three games as well.

And while those five got most of the attention, and deservedly so, there were five unsung heroes without who’s play off the bench three nights in a row, the Colonels would not have been cutting down the nets on Saturday night.

Orlando Williams, Jeff Johnson, Deverin Muff, Timmy Knipp and Isaac McGlone came off the bench and delivered outstanding performances when the Colonels needed them most.

Over the three-game run, the five played a combined 132 minutes — most of which came in pressure-packed situations with the Colonels in deep foul trouble with the outcome of games hanging in the balance.

They combined for 43 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals and one blocked shot, but those numbers don’t even begin to tell the story of how valuable their contributions really were, right from the beginning of the tournament.

In the Colonels’ opener against Southeast Missouri State, Stutz went to the bench with his second foul with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.

Jeff Johnson and Muff were called on to fill the void and did it very well. Johnson delivered perhaps his best performance of the year, doing an outstanding defensive job, helping the Colonels to build as much as a 20-point, first-half lead and helped EKU outrebound a very strong SEMO team in the first half. He played 19 minutes in the 84-76 Colonels win, and although he didn’t score a point, he pulled down two rebounds and handed out three assists.

“Eric had foul trouble, so for Jeff to be able to play 19 minutes and for us to win so convincingly, those minutes were huge, especially when you are playing three games in three nights,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said.

Williams tallied 14 points, had two rebounds an assists and a steal in 15 minutes of play against the Redhawks.

Knipp knocked down a three pointer while playing six minutes in relief of Tarius Johnson and Marcus Lewis, while McGlone, a freshman, scored six points, including four-of-four free throws in 12 minutes of play.

In the Colonels’ rematch with Murray State  in the semifinals, foul trouble once again meant the bench was called on at critical times. Williams played extremely well, logging 25 minutes in the game, finishing with 13 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.

The Colonels lost three starters to fouls, Stutz, Tarius Johnson and Lewis, with more than four minutes remaining in the game.

But once again, Williams, McGlone. Knipp, Muff and Jeff Johnson came through in the clutch with the Colonels clinging to a slim lead down the stretch.

Jeff Johnson hit two pressure free throws and Knipp had his only basket of the game inside the final minute.

“If you look at the lineup that finished the game, because of foul trouble, we had Deverin, Isaac and Orlando all on the court for at least the last two minutes and they came up big,” Neubauer said. “And Jeff Johnson went to the free throw line late in the game and made two huge free throws.”

Neither McGlone nor Muff scored in the game, but McGlone’s ballhandling was superb against Murray’s full-court press in the final two minutes. And though it doesn’t show on the stat sheet, Muff came up with one of the biggest plays of the game with the Colonels clinging to a three-point lead in the final seconds.

Murray State had the ball with 18 seconds remaining with a chance to tie the game with a three pointer.

With the Colonels defense swarming on the Racers’ outside shooters and time running out, Muff raced out and tipped a desperation three-point attempt by the Racers’ Jeffrey Moss, sending it off target and the Colonels survived to advance to the title game.

Against Belmont in the championship game, Muff once again came through with a game-changing play.

Belmont erased a 10-point Colonel lead and tied the game at 54-54 with just under six minutes remaining and had all the momentum on its side.

The Bruins then came up with a steal and had a chance to take the lead for the first time in the game.

But as he had done the night before, Muff swooped out to block a J.J. Mann three-point attempt and got the ball back for the Colonels.

After a timeout, Cosey hit a three-pointer, Tarius Johnson nailed two free throws and a Walden three pointer put the Colonels on top for good.

Muff said he was so locked in to the game that he didn’t realize until much later the difference his block made in the contest.

“I didn’t realize what just happened and how big a moment it was. I didn’t really get a chance to think about it until later, I was so focused on the game,” Muff said.

Neubauer said there is no doubt that the OVC title was a complete team effort.

“So many guys deserve credit for this championship. You can’t just depend on one or two guys to win a championship. You have to have a team and I do think this group we have has been a great team,” Neubauer said.

That the Colonels became such a tight-knit unit in such a short time is pretty amazing.

Cosey, Walden, Tarius Johnson, Williams and Lewis have been in the program only two years after transferring in from junior colleges and other universities.

It’s not always easy to get that many new faces to blend in with returning players, but the Colonels did it.

Neubauer said all the credit goes to his veterans.

“A big part of Glenn Cosey, Corey Walden, Tarius and Marcus doing well here is that they had great leadership from guys who had been here before them, Ryan Parsons, Jeff Johnson, Eric Stutz and Deverin Muff. I give those guys the most credit for this team blending so well,” Neubauer said. “There are no cliques on this team, it is one big happy group. And right now they are especially happy.”

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