Saturday, March 7, 2015

Farewell to the Eagles

Now that John Pelphrey is back at Florida as an assistant, I think Sean Woods is the only one of the Unforgettables still serving as a head coach for a D-I program.  This was his third season in Morehead, and here's how he's done so far:

2013:  15-18 (227th in the country according to Ken Pom)
2014:  20-14 (180th in the country)
2015:  17-17 (162d in the country)

That's a solid trend.

This year's team got off to a shaky start, and was 4-10 (with a six-game losing streak) after an 83-60 loss at home to Northern Kentucky on December 19.  But Morehead steadied the ship after that, and got significantly better down the stretch, winning 8 of their last 11 regular season games to finish with a 10-6 record in OVC play.  Morehead's biggest problem was that the Eagles went only 1-4 against the OVC's Big Three of Murray, Eastern, and Belmont.  But given the quality of those three programs, that is no shame.

In the OVC Tournament, Morehead had to beat SEMO (79-75) on Wednesday and UT-Martin (76-65) on Thursday just to get a shot at Murray in last night's semi-finals.  The Racers, winners of 24 games in a row (and ranked 25th in the latest AP Poll) were formidable opponents indeed.  But in recent years, Morehead has usually played Murray tough, and the Eagles were riding a five-game winning streak.  The OVC has seen a lot of drama in recent years -- this is a bit of a Golden Age for the old conference, in my opinion -- but rarely has the league seen a better game than last night's battle between Murray and Morehead.

Morehead jumped off to a quick lead, but Murray came roaring back to lead 43-32 going into the halftime break.  I'm always nervous when Murray gets into the OVC Tournament, but I started to relax a bit with that big halftime lead.  That was a huge mistake, as Morehead was far from finished.  In fact, for most of the second half, the Eagles simply dominated the Racers -- going on a 39-17 run to take a 71-60 lead with only 6:31 left in the game.  At this point, Ken Pom estimated that Murray's chances of winning were only 8.3 percent, and it appeared that Morehead was on its way to a historic victory over its ancient rival.

But down the stretch, Murray took its game to an extraordinary level -- making eight of its last nine shots, including a huge three-pointer by Cameron Payne to take the lead with less than a minute to go.  The Racers hung on for a spectacular, come-from-behind win:  80-77.  Morehead's season was over.  Nevertheless, the Eagles had played extremely well, and given their fans strong reason to hope that Coach Woods has this team on the right track.

Morehead State finishes with a record of 17-17 overall and 10-6 in the OVC.  The Eagles were eliminated in the semi-finals of the OVC Tournament.  They were the first of Kentucky's six eligible D-I schools to be eliminated from this year's national championship race.

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