Home Basketball SIU-Edwardsville Set For OVC Men’s Post-Season Basketball Tourney

SIU-Edwardsville Set For OVC Men’s Post-Season Basketball Tourney

#6 Cougars Have To Run Gauntlet In Order To Reach March Madness

by Brian Ledford

After a topsy-turvy, 31-game regular season, the slate is wiped clean for Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville as they enter this week’s Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) men’s basketball tournament at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.

The Cougars (16-15, 9-9 in OVC) are the sixth seed within the eight-team bracketed complexion and face #7 Eastern Illinois (14-17, 8-10 OVC) in an opening-round showdown that takes place at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

And the overall missive is quite clear. If SIUE desires to achieve a historical, first-time entry into the NCAA Division 1’s version of “March Madness,” they must win four straight games and claim the OVC’s trophy outright.

Live coverage of SIUE’s Wednesday game versus the Panthers can be seen on ESPN+. The winner of that battle advances to Thursday night’s quarterfinal round contest against #3 Morehead State (23-8, 14-4 OVC).

Overall for the OVC tourney, the top two seeds received automatic placement into Friday’s semifinals, while the third and fourth seeds received byes and placement into Thursday’s quarterfinals and meet Wednesday’s opening round winners.

As a lower-seeded team entering sixth, SIUE must run the gauntlet to reach mid-March’s 64-team Division 1 mix. Claiming the OVC title is an automatic lock for any of the octet competing at the Ford Center this week. Saturday’s OVC finale has a 7 p.m. tipoff on ESPN2.

The task is tough for SIUE, but it’s not impossible due to previous success over this weekend’s higher seeds during the regular season.

The Cougars notched a 12-2 record on home court at First Community Arena, which included February’s 68-66 triumph over this weekend’s OVC top-seed, Little Rock, and January’s 61-48 victory over #3 Morehead State.

Conversely, SIUE struggled on the road (2-13) against OVC foes during the regular season. The Cougars also enter the post-season dropping three straight road contests, including Saturday’s 76-65 setback to #4 Western Illinois.

Putting the most-recent woes behind, SIUE is primed to make a push with the plethora of talent they possess.

Junior guard Damarco Minor leads the team in scoring (15.2 PPG) while senior Shamar Wright follows (14.5 PPG). Collinsville’s Ray’Sean Taylor adds to the attack (13.2 PPG).

Others to watch Wednesday includes Shamar’s brother Lamar Wright (9 PPG) while 6-11 center Arnas Sekenis aims to claim rebounds and contribute prime points.

In his fifth year at SIUE’s helm, coach Brian Barone looks for his to team to supersede last season’s OVC benchmark. As a first-time tourney entry in 2023, the Cougars claimed their first-ever OVC post-season win last March (a 14-point duke over Southern Indiana) before being ousted by conference rival UT Martin in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s game against Eastern Illinois will be the third meeting between the pair this season, and technically, it’s the rubber match as both programs split their home-and-home OVC games.

SIUE claimed a 67-58 local victory over the Panthers in late-December while EIU avenged with an 84-79 duke in late-February.

The Panthers, helmed by veteran coach Marty Simmons, enter the tourney losing three of their last four games. The lone victory was the aforementioned five-point triumph over the Cougars.

Senior guard Tiger Booker leads the team with a 16 PPG average, while junior guard Nakyel Shelton and sophomore forward Kooper Jacobi each averages ten points.

Much like SIUE, Eastern also struggled during OVC road games (4-11) this season.

Considering their comparable play against each other, and low output during road games, the neutral-ground meeting should be considered a coin-flip.

If anything, SIUE’s goal this week is to reach new levels in OVC post-season play and at least make a push to the semifinals.

And if anyone thought that a lower seed can’t reach the big dance, consider this. Last year’s OVC tourney fifth-seed, Southeastern Missouri (SEMO), claimed an automatic berth by winning the conference’s post-season showcase.

Perhaps that underdog narrative can repeat again this week for SIUE.


#1 – LITTLE ROCK (19-11, 13-4 OVC)

The top-seeded Trojans last reached March Madness in 2016 but seek their sixth appearance historically. The hottest OVC team at the moment is on a roll, currently sporting a nine-game win-streak that was pushed by their 81-43 thumping of conference rival Tennessee Tech. Four starters average double-digits per game, paced by senior guard KK Robinson’s 15 points per game. With momentum and confidence on their side, a return to the main D1 tourney after a eight-year absence is not out of realm.

Top players: KK Robinson (15.8 PPG), Jamir Chaplin (15.2 PPG), DeAntoni Gordon (11.7 PPG)

#2 – UT MARTIN (20-10, 13-4 OVC)

The Skyhawks have never reached March Madness but the regular season has the squad performing at optimum levels, currently topping team offense in the OVC (81.6 PPG). They have won seven straight heading into Evansville, topped by Saturday’s 96-87 win over #5 Tennessee State. Junior guard Jordan Sears leads the OVC in scoring (21.2) while fellow classmate Jacob Crews ranks third. On the flip-side, UT Martin ranks last in defense. Automatic placement in the semifinals helps their cause, but they have to win the tourney outright if they wish to make entry into March Madness.

Top players: Jordan Sears (21 PPG), Jacob Crews (19 PPG), Issa Muhammed (11 PPG).

#3 – MOREHEAD STATE (22-8, 13-4 OVC)

The Eagles seek their first entry into March Madness since 2021. The squad topped the standings for most of the season but their setbacks against the higher seeds during the regular season forced them to this position. Morehead has won three straight heading into the tourney. Senior guard Riley Minx (20 PPG) has been the focal point this season for a squad that only has three players averaging double-digits. What set the Eagles apart from the competition has been their stubborn defense that topped the OVC (62 PPG surrendered). Bracket placement has them primed for positioning for an OVC championship game. They have to make to most of it.

Top players: Riley Minx (20 PPG), Jordan Lathon (16 PPG), Kalil Thomas (11 PPG).

#4 WESTERN ILLINOIS (19-11, 12-5 OVC)

Founded in 1904, the Leathernecks aim for their first-ever March Madness trip. Western have won three straight OVC games against lower-seeded teams, finishing with Saturday’s 11-point win over SIUE. Western’s offensive average was in the middle of the pack (69.5 PPG) while their defense ranked second in the OVC (65.4 PPG). Junior guard Ryan Myers paces the team in scoring. There isn’t anything overwhelming for this team but they could play spoiler in the upper half of the bracket as they only fell to top-seeded Little Rock by three points in early-February.

Top Players: Ryan Myers (13 PPG), James Dent Jr. (11 PPG), Jasiah West (9 PPG).

#5 TENNESSEE STATE (17-13, 12-5 OVC)

The Tigers look to return to March Madness after a 30-year drought, but recent trends show that that achievement might be extremely difficult.  They’ve dropped two straight, both against the weekend’s top two seeds. A 25-point loss to top-seeded Little Rock last week provided insight. They face #8 Southern Indiana in Wednesday’s early game, where both split the home-and-home regular-season series. Senior guard Christian Brown leads the team in points (12 PPG) but only one other player averages double-digits. Task is tough to advance and play in the quarterfinals, but anything can happen. Again, SEMO did it as a fifth seed last season to win the post-season OVC tourney.

Top Players: Christian Brown (12 PPG), E.J. Bellinger (11 PPG), Jason Jitoboh (10 PPG).

#8 SOUTHERN INDIANA (8-23, 5-13 OVC)

The long-shot Screaming Eagles had a pretty abysmal season overall, but they squeaked into the OVC tourney by topping Morehead State and SIUE in February. Junior guard Jeremiah Hernandez paces scoring (17 PPG) while sophomore A.J. Smith (!5 PPG) follows. Southern Indiana plays #5 Tennessee State in Wednesday’s opening round and the Screaming Eagles posted a 69-67 win between the pair in January, so a lower-seeded upset is possible. After that, early projections have them ousted in Thursday’s quarterfinals.

Top Players: Jeremiah Hernandez (17 PPG), AJ Smith (15 PPG), Jack Mielke (8 PPG).

OVC TOURNEY LINE-UP – (TV Coverage In Green)


6:30 PM – #5 Tennessee State vs. #8 Southern Indiana (ESPN+)

9 PM – #6 SIUE vs. #7 Eastern Illinois (ESPN+)


6:30 PM – TN State/SO Indiana Winner vs. #4 Western Illinois (ESPN+)

9 PM – SIUE/Eastern Illinois Winner vs. #3 Morehead State (ESPN+)


7 PM – Thursday Game 1 Winner vs. #1 Little Rock (ESPNU)

9:30 PM – Thursday Game 2 Winner vs. #2 UT Martin (ESPNU)


7 PM – Friday Game 1 Winner vs. Friday Game 2 Winner (ESPN2)

By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is a writer for Arch City Media, dating back to February 2014. Emphasis is on featuring and promoting local women's sports, but will cover anything that is not reported by traditional media outlets. Also a contributor to local concert reviews.

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