The Colonels withstood a late Morehead State rally and held on to claim an 80-76 win over their long-time rivals on Senior Night at McBrayer Arena.
Saturday’s win completed EKU’s sweep of the Eagles for the first time since 2015 and wrapped up the Colonel’s regular season with 12 conference wins — tied for the second-most conference wins in program history.
It is only the fourth time in program history the Colonels have won 12 or more OVC games in a season, joining the 1964-65 (13), 2006-07 (13) and 2012-13 (12) squads.
The Colonels (15-16, 12-6 OVC) will play in the quarterfinals of the 2020 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and enter the tournament as the four seed.
The significance of Saturday’s win was not lost on EKU coach A.W. Hamilton, who remarked on the Colonel’s incredible turnaround from the start of the season.
“I’m really proud of this group. We’ve come a long way. This is the fourth time in school history we have 12 or more OVC wins. We’ve been in the OVC for 72 years,” Hamilton said in a postgame press conference. “We start off 3-10 after the non conference and we could have easily folded. Then they turn around and win 12 games in the league and this is a great league. Look at Morehead, that wanted to win this game and they fought like crazy… I can’t even put in words how excited and proud and happy for these kids I am.”
The Eagles (13-18, 7-11 OVC) didn’t make it easy on Saturday night as Morehead State battled for their shot to punch a ticket to Evansville.
The Colonels had a 10-point lead, 37-27, with 3:43 left in the first half after Michael Moreno made a jumpshot.
However, Morehead State went on a 7-0 lead over then next two minutes to whittle the Colonels lead back to just one point with 1:22 left till halftime.
Senior Ty Taylor came up with a huge three-pointer off an assist from Jomaru Brown to give EKU a four-point lead going into the locker room, 40-36.
Early in the second half, the Eagles once again made a bid for the lead.
Morehead State erased a six-point Colonel lead and then pulled ahead 58-57 when Justin Thomas connected on a lay-up with 11:43 left in the game.
However, an MSU foul led to a media timeout with 10:30 left to play and set up a big momentum changer for the Eagles.
During the timeout, Morehead State was assessed a technical foul after an exchange between MSU head coach Preston Spradlin and an official.
Taylor hit the two free throws for the technical and Brown made his two free throws to turn the one-point deficit into a 62-58 lead.
The Colonels then used a 7-2 run to pull ahead once more by nine points, 69-60, with 7:40 remaining to play and never trailed again.
“It’s crucial. It’s big,” Spradlin said of the technical foul during post-game remarks. “I’m going to really regret getting that technical for a long time because of how much I really care about this team and care about these kids. A coach should never interject himself into the score of the game. I’m disappointed in myself on that one… It was a big (turning) point in the game.”
The Eagles were not done yet, however, and made one more run, out-scoring the EKU 12-3 to get back within one, 73-72, with 3:33 remaining.
Brown fought through defenders for a crucial layup to keep MSU from taking the lead.
However, the Eagles got within one again, 75-74, on a tip-in from James Baker at the 1:38 mark.
EKU turned the ball over on its ensuing possession and Morehead State had two chances to take the lead – a three-point attempt with 45 seconds left and a jumper with 26 ticks to go – but neither shot fell.
Moreno got the rebound and was fouled. The freshman hit both free throws at the line to keep the win out of reach of the Eagles.
Brown led six players in double figures with 17 points and reached a 1,000 career points early in the game on a jumper.
The sophomore also had three rebounds, three assists, three steals and was 5-of-5 from the free throw line on Saturday.
Brown said he could’ve never imagined scoring 1,000 points as just a sophomore.
“It’s amazing. My eighth-grade year, I would’ve never have expected to be here and leading this team. We had to battle and fought through adversity. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m super proud of my team and I’m excited.”
The guard, who had a visible mark on his face from contact earlier in the game, said he considers it a badge of honor.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Brown responded when asked about his injury. “We were getting in the paint and trying to shoot over towers. I’m super happy I walked out with a scar and a win.”
Taylor, who scored his 1,000 career point last week, added 16 points and six rebounds.
Moreno finished with 14 points and eight boards. King had 11 points. Russhard Cruickshank and Hobbs had 10 each.
Baker had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Morehead State.
EKU out-scored the Eagles by five points off turnovers and out-scored the visitors by five at the free throw line.
“We haven’t swept Morehead State in a while,” Hamilton said. “They have won seven of the last 10 games in our building. To be able to sweep them is great for our program.”
Taylor said winning on Saturday was crucial for the Colonels as they wanted to enter the tournament on a high note.
“We knew coming in, that this team sent us home last year and this time they had to beat us, for sure, to get to the tournament. I took on the pride of the rest of the guys that were here last year. I’m just wanted to play as best as I could for my team. Going forward, we have a little momentum. If we keep riding this wave, I expect big things,” Taylor said.