Eastern Kentucky University men’s basketball team improved to 8-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference after defeating UT Martin on Thursday night, 99-86, and Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, 70- 57, at McBrayer Arena.
With the win over UT Martin, EKU was off to their best start in program history since 1988 and with the win over SEMO, the Colonels are off to their best start in conference play in 41 years.
The Colonels have not started 8-2 in OVC play since the 1978 season.
The men’s team came out hot from the start against UT Martin with sophomore guard, Jomaru Brown, getting a slam dunk on the way to his 22-point performance.
Graduate transfer, Ty Taylor, broke his career high at EKU with 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field against the Skyhawks.
“I’m happy that I played well and we won,” Taylor said after the win on Thursday. “We made history tonight for the program so I’m excited about that.”
“Tyron [Ty] was electric and he got going and was a huge lift for us,” said head coach A.W. Hamilton on Thursday.
Brown credited the energy from the beginning of the game and pressing UT Martin into 21 turnovers helped his team get the victory.
“The energy was crazy so we just fed off that,” Brown said.
The Colonels controlled the action and made the hustle plays needed to win. Sophomore, Tre King, made a play to save the ball in the second half and ended up flying over the scorers table on the sideline. King jumped up and ran back on the court like nothing happened.
“In my mind, I saw the ball but I saw the table and I heard coach go ‘dive for the ball’ and I thought it wasn’t that far away but when I dove I kept going and going and then I was on the floor. I’m glad I saved it,” King said with a laugh.
King finished with 22 points, four assists, five steals and five rebounds.
“We came out and we set the tone with our pressure and did a really good job,” Hamilton said. “We turned them over 16 times in the first half and we built up a 20 point lead.”
At halftime, EKU led UT Martin 57-37. Taylor scored 20 of his 27 points in the first half.
Coming into the matchup with the Sky- hawks, EKU wanted to shut down Parker Stewart for UT Martin. Stewart came into the game averaging 19.8 points-per-game.
“We did a great job on Parker Stewart,” Hamilton said. “We made things tough on him and we pressured him all game. We wore him down and we forced seven turn- overs just by him.”
EKU held Stewart to 6-of-18 shooting and limited his chances from beyond the arc as he went 1-of-7.
EKU recorded 12 steals in the first half and a total of 15 in the game.
“This was a great win for us. They are a talented team and we knew that,” Hamilton said.
Since the start of conference play, Hamilton and his squad have found ways to win on the road and at home. Hamilton credits part of that to the team chemistry.
“Our chemistry is incredible,” Hamilton said. “These guys are playing with passion, with confidence, they’re together and they believe in each other.”
Every Colonel who saw playing time on Thursday night scored. EKU had three players in double figures: King, Brown and Taylor. Tariq Balogun and Lachlan Anderson provided good minutes for the Colonels scoring seven points and six points respectively. Anderson also picked up four rebounds and two assists.
“We’re playing very well as a team,” Hamilton said. “Our ball movement has been very good since we started OVC play.”
EKU continued to dominate their competition on Saturday against SEMO.
Lachlan Anderson scored a season-high 20 points for the Colonels. He also made a career-high-six 3-pointers. Brown finished with 16 points, five rebounds, five steals and five assists against SEMO.
“Lachlan Anderson was unbelievable,” Hamilton said. “That’s just who Lachlan is.”
The Colonels shot 39 percent from the field for the game and 31 percent (10-for- 32) from 3-point range, but converted 18 SEMO turnovers into 23 points.
“Those kids wanted it... we’ve been through a lot and right now we have a really good vibe about us,” Hamilton said.
SEMO made 37 percent of its shots overall and 28 percent from deep.
The EKU men’s basketball team will be back in action on Thursday, Feb. 6 at Eastern Illinois. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m.