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Monday, March 17, 2014

Eastern Kentucky eager for KU ‘challenge’

Eastern Kentucky players Eric Stutz (42), Tarius Johnson (34) and Orlando Williams celebrate in the final seconds of a 79-73 win over Belmont in an NCAA college basketball game for the Ohio Valley Conference men's tournament title, Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.

Eastern Kentucky players Eric Stutz (42), Tarius Johnson (34) and Orlando Williams celebrate in the final seconds of a 79-73 win over Belmont in an NCAA college basketball game for the Ohio Valley Conference men's tournament title, Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.

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Eastern Kentucky men’s basketball coach Jeff Neubauer and his players had very little reaction to seeing Kansas University on the line above theirs when the 68-team NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed Sunday afternoon.

“We knew we were going to draw a great team,” said Neubauer, now in his ninth season in charge of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champions. “We knew we were gonna draw a Duke or Michigan or Kansas. And we just happened to draw one of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball, so our team is looking forward to the challenge, and we’ll see if we’re ready for this test.”

From a confidence standpoint, the Colonels (24-9 overall, 11-5 OVC) enter Friday’s 3:10 p.m. matchup with the Jayhawks (24-9) riding a seven-game winning streak and having won 10 of their past 12 games, including three in a row in the OVC tournament as the No. 3 seed. EKU knocked off top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in the title game after building an eight-point lead at the half and shooting 50 percent from three-point range.

In that one, the three-point-minded Colonels drilled two more triples than their season average by knocking in 11 of 22 three-point tries, led by senior guard Glenn Cosey’s 5-of-8 performance. This season, different EKU players totaled at least 18 three-pointers, with four players draining 35 or more.

“That’s who we are,” Neubauer said. “We’re one of the 10 best three-point shooting teams in the country. We make over nine three-pointers per game. I’ve got 10 guys in my rotation, and eight of them are elite three-point shooters.”

Eastern Kentucky finished the season ranked 24th in the country in team three-point percentage (39.0), tied for fifth in three-pointers made per game (9.2) and tied for 12th in three-pointers attempted per game (24). What’s more, EKU finished third in the nation with 303 three-pointers made and 13th in three-pointers attempted (776).

“It is what we do,” Neubauer said. “We like to have four or five shooters on the floor at all times.”

In addition to being known for the long ball, the Colonels play an aggressive style of defense and like to force opponents into mistakes by being aggressive everywhere on the court.

“We really focus on playing defense and playing hard,” said junior forward Eric Stutz, the Colonels’ leading rebounder at 4.7 rpg. “We try to use our defense to create our offense, but a lot of it is we just try to outplay our opponent with effort.”

Working those strengths into a gameplan against Kansas will be the focus of the next several days for the Colonels, but Sunday was about celebrating the achievement of making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. That was Neubauer’s second season, and he came to EKU with NCAA Tourney experience, both as a player and an assistant coach. For the guys on his roster, though, this week’s fun will be a first. And that’s why they weren’t letting things like scouting report or overwhelming odds spoil the mood Sunday night.

“Ah, man, it was awesome,” Stutz said. “We worked the whole year to get to this point, and finally seeing our name up there on that screen on Selection Sunday was an amazing feeling.

“None of us have played in the NCAA Tournament,” he continued. “And facing a program like Kansas just makes the experience more exciting for us. Regardless of who we play, the experience of being in the tournament is a dream come true, and we just want to soak it up and enjoy every minute of it.”


EASTERN KENTUCKY, AT A GLANCE

Record: 24-9 overall, 11-5 conference

Conference: Ohio Valley

City: Richmond, Ky.

Mascot: Colonels

Enrollment: 15,968

Colors: Maroon and white

RPI: 99

Head coach: Jeff Neubauer, ninth season

NCAA Tourney record: 0-7

Last NCAA appearance: 2007

Points per game: 79.0, 28th nationally

Rebounds per game: 26.2, 350th nationally

Assists per game: 14.7, 55th nationally

Field-goal percentage: 49.0, 11th nationally

Strength of schedule: 234

High-profile opponents: at North Carolina State (75-56 L); at Wisconsin (86-61 L); at VCU (71-68 L, OT).

Comments

Robert Brown 6 months, 1 week ago

This would seem to be the type of team that could give us trouble given our poor defense against three point shooting and how prone we are to make turnovers.

2

Dirk Medema 6 months, 1 week ago

Very true. Let's just hope the guys are focused enough not to pull a mizzoo.

2

Travis Taggart 6 months, 1 week ago

Hey, it's ok to give the other team credit. That was much more than a dunk. Tarik's throw down (not technically a dunk; the hand has to be over/on the rim) was awesome.. as was McLemore's... But that dunk by the Eastern Kentucky player was the unbelievably athletic. A completely different level... figuratively and literally.

0

Jonathan Allison 6 months ago

Even if Tarik didn't touch the rim, that was a terrific throwdown.

But yes, the EKU dunk was very impressive. If they pull that one off on Friday, then mega props to EKU.

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Chad Smith 6 months, 1 week ago

Always be aware, but never afraid. I've seen KU play teams like this plenty of times in the tourney in the first round. Great three point shooting team, creates turnovers. honestly, this is where the talent level makes a difference. They ARE a a dangerous team for us to face, BUT we are a great challenge for them. They won't have faced a player like Wiggins all season. It's easy to drain threes when you don't have athletic and long guards up in your grill contesting shots(Wiggins, Selden). This is our chance for some of our poor guard play to redeem itself. Mason and Tharpe need a confidence booster game and this could be it. Down low, I think we have them overmatched, I expect Ellis and Black to both have strong games and for Traylor to rebound and dunk some baskets as well. I think KU will win and move on.

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Steve Zimmerman 6 months ago

Amen to your first few sentences. But I don't agree that Ellis has what it takes to take care of the job down low. He's got blocked so many times, he's panicking. His 3pt, or mid jumpers, or spin dribble-layup is a different story. The only post that can take care of down-low move is Jojo. Black tends to kick out the ball too much. Jamari is pretty much the same. Black has shown nice post moves but he needs to be quicker. We need some beasts inside that can post and vertical leap dunk the ball - a good example is Cuse: Jerami Grant or FL Patric Young.

Can't wait to watch Cliff shatter backboards - wouldn't hurt if we got Zimmerman, too.

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Armen Kurdian 6 months, 1 week ago

True, if we make their lives in the paint utterly miserable, then they'd probbaly need at least 15 treys to win the game. KU wins when they ATTACK. So if we can get some solid tranistion baskets early, it may just overwhelm them quickly enough. We should build an early lead, then start taking some threes of our own, not so much to extend the lead but for practice should they win and move on against the next round.

There are no gimmes or anything close to that from now on. Need 40 minutes every game or it's gonna a be a short March.

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