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Govs’ rally continues OVC streak

Robert Smith/Tnsports360.com

By Colby Wilson

APSU Athletics Communications

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Keep on believing.

Austin Peay survived an outstanding effort from an Eastern Illinois side poised to score a major upset in the Ohio Valley Conference, rallying back from a double-digit first half deficit to score a 68-64 win to keep the Govs atop the league standings.

After pushing Murray State to the limit Thursday night on the other side of the border, Eastern Illinois was unlikely to be fazed by the raucous crowd that filed into the Dunn Center on Saturday. Lacking the pop they displayed against SIU Edwardsville, the Govs found themselves unable to find room to maneuver in the post early on, while Eastern Illinois countered by hitting 61.5 percent from the floor for the half. 

One place the Govs have found success this season has been getting second and third chances on the offensive end thanks to the work of Terry Taylor and Eli Abaev. The duo were up against the most formidable opponent they have faced since league play started in Eastern Illinois, whose kamikaze style of relentless board-crashing centered around the vortex of George Dixon, the league’s second-leading rebounder. Austin Peay garnered just two offensive rebounds over the opening 20 minutes.

It was important the Govs closed out the first half on a high note after trailing by as much as 13 points.  Austin Peay got a much-needed change in momentum, outscoring the Panthers 11-5 over the final five minutes of the half, with Taylor and freshman Carlos Paez each converting three-point plays to take chunks out of the deficit.  

As the Govs were making a run early in the second half, a crisis struck when Taylor was saddled with a third foul of the questionable variety. Just over a minute later, Antwuan Butler picked up No. 3 battling for a loose ball. Suddenly, under the most dire home circumstances they’d faced this season, Austin Peay was without two starters for a few minutes. 

Credit the reserves for holding Eastern Illinois at bay, particularly Matheus Silveira and Alec Woodard who replaced the duo. Credit Taylor, who only sat two minutes, and Butler with not picking what would have been a truly devastating fourth foul. Austin Peay kept its cool as a team and began to chip away at the deficit. Threes from Taylor, Jordyn Adams and Evan Hinson helped cut the deficit from seven to two at the 10-minute mark.

Butler gave the Govs their first lead with 9:10 remaining, absorbing contact on a jumper and sinking the and-one opportunity. One possession later, Adams picked up a steal and swooped to the hoop to put the Govs up three.

Eastern Illinois’ Mack Smith has the nation’s longest streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer, which he extended to 71 games in this contest, and he provided the Panthers a prime opportunity to snatch momentum away from the Govs with back-to-back threes with under three to play to put Eastern Illinois ahead by four. But back-to-back buckets by Butler and Adams tied the game with a minute to play.

An Eastern Illinois shot clock violation gave the Govs the ball with 40 seconds to play. Austin Peay walked it into the front court and chewed clock until Paez, driving baseline, found a cutting Eli Abaev at the hoop. Abaev had only two shots on the night, but this one found twine to give Austin Peay the lead with 10.2 ticks remaining.

On the other end of the court, Butler stole the ball on an Eastern Illinois drive but was fouled, setting up a one-and-one opportunity. The first attempt drew iron, but Taylor skied to tip the ball up… and up… and into the net to make it a four-point game with less than three seconds to play. He stole the inbounds pass for good measure to ensure the Govs would go home victorious.

The Difference

In the kind of contest Eastern Illinois wanted to play—slow, methodical half-court sets that ate up clock and kept the score low—the high-octane Govs needed to find any opportunity they could to get out and run and the result was a 20-5 advantage in transition points, many coming off turnovers.

Notably

  • The Govs are now 10-0 in league play for the first time since the 2003-04 team went undefeated for the regular season.
  • Since joining the starting lineup Dec. 30, Butler and Paez are combining for a 3.48-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, at 2.3 turnovers per game in 56 minutes per game.
  • In OVC play, the Govs are now plus-3.1 in turnover margin and plus-5.0 in rebounding margin.
  • Austin Peay has now won 13 straight at home, its longest streak since the 28-game streak spanning 2002-04.
  • Hinson hauled in a career-high six rebounds to go with eight points, including the 100th of his Austin Peay career.
  • The win is Austin Peay’s first when scoring fewer than 70 points since Jan. 17, 2018 against Jacksonville State.
  • Austin Peay has now won 10 straight games for the first time since an 11-game streak from Dec. 20, 2006 to Jan. 29, 2007.
  • Milestone Watch: With a game-high 16 points, Taylor became the ninth player in program history to score 1,700 career points; he passed Howard Wright and Wesley Channels for sole possession of seventh all-time and is four points behind Otis Howard. He also became the fourth player in program history with 800 career rebounds and he’s now one of just six active Division I players with 1,700 career points and 800 career rebounds. He also became the first player in Austin Peay history with three straight 500-point seasons to start his career.

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