For the third time in as many years, Matt Figger has lead his team to the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament semifinals.
The Governors jumped out of the gate against Eastern Illinois (17-15) early, scoring the game’s first 17 points. The Panthers missed on their first 11 shot attempts along with three turnovers.
“I felt like it was literally the best start I’ve ever had in a game that meant as much since I’ve been here at Austin Peay,” Figger said in a statement of his team’s first half performance. “Guys were really locked in, really focused, and they were prepared.”
At the end of the first half, the Govs had already matched their season average of assists with 13 and finished with 22 assists on their 29 made field goals.
OVC Player of the Year Terry Taylor said that the importance of ball movement was essential to the early start for the Governors. “Passing the ball is always a focal point for us. Coach tells us to always make the extra pass and to pass up a good shot for an even better shot. We really emphasized that, we love seeing each other score and celebrating with each other.”
The starting lineup was still in fluctuation for Austin Peay (21-11), who saw freshman Alec Woodard start just his third game of the season. The guard matched his career-best in scoring with 11, while hauling in two rebounds and two steals. Head coach Matt Figger has liked what he has seen out of Woodard and announced him as a starter in the semifinal round.
“He’s as good of an on-ball defender as I’ve got on my team,” Figger said. He’s won, and he doesn’t do anything else outside of our team. He stays within who he is, he has an identity, he has a role, and he understands that role. The only reason I hadn’t started him earlier: it’s hard to change things when you’re winning…To help our defense, I needed to make a change within. He’s given us a big lift.”
Defense from the Govs would be crucial when opposite guard Josiah Wallace. In a 68-64 Governors win in early February, Wallace was limited to just seven points.
Despite a 23-point outburst from the guard in the second installment between the two teams, Wallace was held to 11 in the quarterfinal round. The point total snaps a streak of eight straight games with 20 or more points for the junior.
Outside of a stronger second half performance, the Govs’ defense minimized Wallace’s effectiveness in the first 20 minutes; shooting 1-7 from the floor with two points. Panthers’ head coach Jay Spoonhour accredited the defensive play from OVC Freshman of the Year Jordyn Adams to the poor outing offensively.
“He’s a great defensive player,” Spoonhour said. “He did a really good job. Every shot that [Josiah Wallace] gets is a pretty tough shot anyway, but I think that they have a really good plan on the defensive end over there. They made things hard for him.”
The Panthers would respond in the second half, as they have all season long: after a 19-point showing in the first, Eastern Illinois scored nearly three times that in the final 20 minutes, putting 46 up on the board. 31 of the team’s 65 points came within the last 12 minutes. An 8-0 Panthers run in the final 90 seconds would narrow the margin to an 11-point advantage to the Governors. The final score was 76-65.
With the win, APSU advances to the third edition of “The Battle of the Border” this season, with a conference finals appearance at stake. The two teams have split their regular season meetings, with the Racers defeating the Govs most recently, a 75-61 loss in Mu**ay.