Austin Peay coach Dave Loos admitted he got the best birthday present he has ever had when his Governors upset regular season champion Belmont, 97-96, in a thrilling OVC semifinal game at Muncipal Auditorium Friday night.
Loos turned 69 Saturday when his team played UT-Martin for the OVC Tournament title.
Loos’s thoughts were elsewhere, however.
His five-year-old granddaughter is in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where she is fighting for her life against kidney cancer. Her father, Brad Loos, is an assistant coach at Missouri.
“I have had a lot going on in my life with my granddaughter,’’ Dave Loos said after the win.
“I’ll be honest with you. Basketball has been something like a therapy, a diversion for me. My granddaughter is the last thing I think of at night and the first thing I think of in the morning.’’
“The focus should be on these guys,’’ he said of his No. 8 seeded team that is now a win away from being in the NCAA Tournament. “We’ve been in a must-win mode for what seems like three weeks. We had to have a little help to get here. These guys are really feeling it now. We expect to win.’’
It was a game neither team deserved to lose. Belmont Coach Rick Byrd was the first one to shake Loos’s hand after game officials went to the monitor and ruled Belmont’s tip-in by Craig Bradshaw came after time expired.
“It was a great college basketball game,’’ Byrd said. “If you can be happy with a loss, I’m happy for Dave Loos with all he has had with his granddaughter.’’
Byrd was impressed with how the Governors turned their season around after struggling in conference play. They have now won five straight games down the stretch.
“They’re just playing real good now,’’ Byrd said. “I get bent out of shape when we have two straight losses. They lost five home games in our conference. How do you turn that around?’’
Austin Peay’s Chris Horton did his part and more to secure the win over Belmont. He dropped in a team high 30 points, making 8 of 11 field goal attempts and 14 of 16 free throws.
Josh Robinson added 25 points and five assists while Jared Savage had 21 points. Savage and Robinson played 45 minutes and Horton was on the court 41 minutes.
Belmont’s Evan Bradds led all scorers with a game-high 32 points. He made 15 of 16 shots from the field. Bradshaw followed with 18 points for the Bruins, who dropped to 20-11 and will likely get an NIT bid.
The game was tied 18 times and had 21 lead changes. That’s how close it was.
“It’s been special,’’ Loos said of his team’s late season success. “These guys believe.’’
Loos also believes in Rick Byrd.
“He has stayed in touch with me, with what all we’re going through with my granddaughter,’’ Loos said.
There were two winning coaches in the game. It comes as no surprise they have been in the league the longest of any other OVC coaches.Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is a member of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.