At least one men’s college basketball team from Kentucky will polish its dancing shoes this year.
Ascendant star Johni Broome had a career night with 27 points and 12 rebounds as second-seeded Morehead State dominated No. 1 seed and regular-season champion Belmont 86-71 in the finals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Evansville, Ind., on Saturday night.
With the win, Morehead (23-7) earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It will be the Eagles’ first trip to the Big Dance in a decade. Morehead last made the NCAA Tournament during the 2010-2011 season when legendary forward Kenneth Faried helped key a first-round upset of fourth-seeded Louisville.
Morehead never trailed on Saturday. Broome’s fast-break layup with 3:31 to play gave the Eagles their biggest lead at 79-56 and gave the freshman phenom a new career high in scoring.
Broome went 12-for-19 from the field. He was named OVC Tournament MVP after notching a double-double in all three of the Eagles’ wins, combining for 58 points and 36 rebounds.
The Eagles were red-hot on offense against the Bruins, hitting 33 of 61 field goals (54 percent), including nine of 19 three-pointers. Skyelar Potter also engineered a double-double in the win, scoring 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting including a 4-for-5 clip from three-point range.
The teams split their two-game regular-season series with each winning at home. Belmont (26-4) won by 15 in Nashville on Feb. 13, while the Eagles got revenge in the regular-season finale for both in Morehead on Feb. 27, winning 89-82 in overtime to end the Bruins’ 21-game win streak. Morehead will carry a seven-game win streak into the NCAA Tournament.
The teams staged a three-point shootout early. DeVon Cooper gave the Eagles a 15-7 lead with a three that capped a 7-0 run. Belmont’s Grayson Murphy and Caleb Hollander hit back-to-back treys to pull the Bruins within two, then Morehead’s Ta’lon Cooper hit his second three of the night on the ensuing possession.
A layup from Jaylen Sebree capped a 10-0 Eagles run that stretched the lead to 12. Sebree hit a late three and Ta’lon Cooper followed with a layup to send Morehead into halftime with a 43-32 edge.
Both teams went 6-for-11 from three-point range in the first half. Morehead shot 55 percent from the field while Belmont shot 48 percent.
While his teammates were lighting it up from long range, Broome was busy holding it down in the paint for the Eagles. He scored a team-high 10 points in the first half to go along with five rebounds. Potter and Ta’lon Cooper each hit two of three shots from the perimeter before halftime.
Broome scored eight points in the first six minutes of the second half, converting through contact then hitting the free throw as the Eagles opened up a 19-point advantage.
Morehead dialed up the defense after halftime. Belmont hit just two of its first 10 shots including one of its first six three-point attempts in the second half. A three from DeVon Cooper followed by a driving layup by LJ Bryan gave Morehead a 73-51 lead with 7:03 to play.
Belmont hit just three of 16 three-pointers after halftime and finished 9-for-27 from long range. Morehead outscored the Bruins in the paint 46-34 and won the rebound battle 38-28.
The Eagles will learn their NCAA Tournament draw when the field is revealed Sunday, March 14, at 6 p.m. on CBS.