The temptation to pick perennial tease Belmont to spring an NCAA tournament upset won't be an issue this March.
Third-seeded Eastern Kentucky made sure of that Saturday night by upsetting the top-seeded Bruins 79-73 in the Ohio Valley Conference title game.
Guard Corey Walden scored 29 points and backcourt-mate Glenn Cosey tallied 23 as Eastern Kentucky held off a second-half charge from Belmont and clinched its first NCAA tournament bid since 2007. The Colonels had to beat talented Southeast Missouri State and league power Murray State on back-to-back nights just to earn a shot at the Bruins.
If anyone suggested that avoiding Murray State might be a good break for Belmont (24-9, 14-2), they were probably selling Eastern Kentucky (24-9, 11-5) short. Not only were the Colonels the preseason favorite to win the OVC, their array of athletic guards also proved they were a tough matchup for Belmont when the Colonels and Bruins split a pair of regular season games.
Eastern Kentucky was certainly the more prepared team early on Sunday as Cosey, Walden, Tarius Johnson and Marcus Lewis each buried 3-pointers in the opening minutes to propel the Colonels to a 17-2 lead. Belmont pulled within eight by halftime and actually tied the game with six minutes to go, but two more threes by Cosey and Walden helped Eastern Kentucky pull away again for good.
Eastern Kentucky sank 11 of 22 threes, a high percentage but not out of character for a team that shoots 38.7 percent from behind the arc and has four players who hit 40 percent or more. Belmont on the other hand went 8 of 24, not good enough for a team as reliant on outside shooting as the Bruins.
What will be interesting to see is what seed Eastern Kentucky gets from the Selection Committee. The OVC has produced teams that have reached the round of 32 or better three of the past four seasons, but the Colonels are just No. 109 in the RPI and haven't beaten a top 100 RPI opponent besides Belmont.
All that suggests Eastern Kentucky will probably be a No. 14 or 15 seed -- but a dangerous one if it draws a favorable matchup. The Colonels have an excellent senior point guard and an array of shooters but not much size or interior depth.
They put a scare into VCU in December and they did more than that to Belmont.