By Cameron Blair
Eastern’s defense of their 2007 OVC Championship ended Tuesday night with a 74-51 loss to Austin Peay in the first round of the OVC Tournament in Clarksville, Tenn.The Colonels ended their season with six consecutive conference losses.
Although the Colonels upset Austin Peay in the OVC Tournament Championship game last season, Eastern was unable to pose much of a threat to the Governors in this year’s game after falling behind early.
An early 25-2 run by Austin Peay gave the Governors a commanding 29-10 lead. Eastern was unable to cut the lead to single digits before halftime, entering the locker room facing a 39-27 deficit.
Eastern came out stronger in the second half. The Colonels scored seven of the half’s first 11 points and an Adam Leonard jumper with 14:16 remaining in the game cut Austin Peay’s lead to nine at 43-34.
However, the Colonels came no closer. The Governors responded to Eastern’s hot start with a 16-2 run to give them a lead at 59-36 and put the game away.
Poor shooting from the outside doomed the Colonels during the game. Eastern made only eight of their 29 attempts from behind the arc, good for only 27.6 percent. The Colonels made only 36.5 percent of their field-goal attempts for the game.
Despite holding the Governors to 41.7 percent shooting, Eastern was unable to guard the outside shot. Austin Peay made 10 of their 20 shots from the arc (50 percent).
Austin Peay also used their rebounding to offset their poor inside shooting. The Governors outrebounded Eastern by a 38-24 mark. Austin Peay beat the Colonels on the glass in each of their three meetings this season.
The Governors also showed their depth in the win. Five Austin Peay players scored in double digits. Ernest Fields led the team with 15 points and eight rebounds. Fields scored 16 and grabbed 16 rebounds the last time the teams met on Feb. 28.
Sophomore Adam Leonard was one of the few Colonel players to have a good night on the offensive end. The Eastern point guard scored a team-high 17 points and was the only Colonel to score double figures.
The loss proved to be the final game for Eastern’s two seniors, center Darnell Dialls and forward Jamaal Douglas. Dialls scored nine points, but was held to a season-low one rebound and missed the final 13 minutes of the game due to an eye injury.
Douglas scored two points and dished out three assists in his final game at Eastern.
Eastern’s loss was the 12th consecutive time the No. 8 seed has lost to the No. 1 seed since the OVC Tournament expanded to eight teams in 1997. The defeat was the Colonels’ 14th in their last 15 trips to Clarksville.
The Colonels were forced to go on the road for the first round of the OVC Tournament after losing 89-70 to Tennessee State on senior night at McBrayer Arena.
The game proved to be the final home game for seniors Jamaal Douglas and Darnell Dialls.
“To be at the same place for years is something to be proud of,” Dialls said. “I’m proud to go to this school and to have been a part of the history we’ve made here the last four years.”
Dialls finished with 15 points and three rebounds in his final game at McBrayer Arena while Douglas scored five points and dished out five assists in his final home game.
The game appeared to be heading for another close finish for the Colonels during the first half. Eastern scored 10 of the game’s first 15 points, but the five-point margin was the biggest lead either team held in the first half.
The rest of the first half featured eight ties and seven lead changes in the high scoring affair. Both teams shot the ball well in the opening period, with the Colonels connecting on 48.1 percent of their shots and Tennessee State hitting 55.6 percent of theirs.
Sophomore Adam Leonard paced the Colonels’ hot shooting. The point guard from Kansas City led the Colonels with 11 points in the half. Leonard finished the game with 20 points and made four of his nine 3-point attempts.
Eastern Head Coach Jeff Neubauer was pleased with Leonard’s sharp shooting.
“At this time of year, we need all of our cylinders to be running at top speed,” Neubauer said. “We obviously need Adam and Mike Rose and others to be rolling at top speed if we want to do some damage.”
After a Leonard 3-pointer gave the Colonels a 33-30 lead with 3:44 left in the first half, the Tigers ended the opening period on an 8-4 run to take a 38-37 lead into the locker room.
However, Tennessee State quickly took control of the game after the break. The Tigers opened the half on an 11-4 run and took their first double-digit lead at 61-49 with 12:39 remaining in the game.
“They really started hitting all their shots,” Leonard said of the Tigers’ second-half effort. “It seemed like they were hitting every three they shot.”
Eastern could not cut the Tigers’ lead to any less than eight points for the rest of the game.
“Every coach in the country wants their team to be playing their best basketball in March,” Neubauer said. “And this certainly wasn’t our best performance.”
Neubauer pointed out the talent level of Tennessee State, mentioning their victories over Illinois and OVC regular season champion Austin Peay.
Eastern’s coach said he was mostly disappointed with the Colonels’ defensive performance.
“Tennessee State is a very talented team but we didn’t guard them well,” Neubauer said. “We allowed them to shoot 58 percent from the field and it’s hard to win when you give up that rate of scoring.