Tiny Dancers: Austin Peay the first 8 seed in OVC history to win league

Say it with me, one of the best chants in all of sports: Let’s go Peay!

The first automatic bid of the 2016 NCAA Tournament was dealt on Saturday night, as Austin Peay made history. The No. 8 seed in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament became the first team in league history to be slotted so low and yet win the bracket. No one expected the Governors to win this tourney, of course. They won four games in four days and created one of the best stories in conference history.

And looked like the Golden State Warriors doing it.

The Govs knocked off top-seeded Belmont on Friday night, then took out No. 2 Tennessee-Martin 83-73 in the title game thanks to 16-of-31 shooting from 3-point range. The barrage was led by a freshman named Jared Savage, who put up a career-high 24 points, all of them coming on his eight treys.

It’s the first NCAA Tournament in eight years for the program and the seventh trip in its history. AP’s 16 3-pointers were a season high. Josh Robinson added 20 points, and Khalil Davis 14 points.

The first team in the 2016 field is guaranteed to be one of the best stories. Peay coach Dave Loos’ granddaughter, Rhyan, turns 6 on Tuesday. She’s been battling cancer since October, and just had surgery to fight off the disease on Friday. #RallyforRhyan has become an immense cause on the local level. Rhyan’s father, Brad, is the son of Dave Loos and is an assistant at Missouri.

It’s awful that any child has to face cancer. The only silver lining in this is how Austin Peay has rallied to make the NCAAs, and in the process, will bring 10 times as much awareness — if not more — to Rhyan Loos’ cause. That’s powerful. That’s the best of sports.

“This is unbelievable,” Loos said on ESPN2 afterward. “I’m so honored and thankful for having been at Austin Peay … this is incredible.”

Tennessee-Martin heads home disappointed and will have to wait at least another season to get the first Big Dance bid in school history.

Player to watch: Chris Horton is an absolute stud. He had only eight points in limited minutes due to an injury in the title game. But he’s averaging more than 19 points and 12 rebounds. He won the OVC tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

The Vitals:

    • Record: 18-17 overall, 7-9 in the Ohio Valley
    • Most recent tournament appearance: 2008 (lost to No. 2 Texas 74-54 as a No. 15 seed)
    • Jerry Palm predicts: 16 seed
    • RPI: 196
    • KenPom ranking: 219
    • Sagarin ranking: 232
    • Best wins: at Murray State, over Belmont in OVC semis
    • Worst losses: vs. Tennessee Tech, vs. Eastern Illinois. vs. Cal Poly
    • Notable stat: 9,366: That’s how many days Dave Loos has been the coach at Austin Peay. He’s the seventh longest-tenured man in Division I hoops. Only Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Oakland’s Greg Kampe, Belmont’s Rick Byrd, Presbyterian’s Gregg Nibert and Davidson’s Bob McKillop have been at their posts longer. This will be the fourth time Loos has taken the Governors to the Big Dance. This is the final year of his contract. He is the winningest coach in school history, having notched 398 victories.

Closing quip: Horton is one of the best low-major players in the nation, without question. Now, Peay is almost definitely going to get sent to Dayton for the First Four because of its record and RPI mark, but no matter the fellow 16 seed it gets next week, probably safe to say Horton will be the best prospect on the floor. Make a point to watch Peay for a number of reasons, Horton at the top of the list.

Dave Loos is going back to the NCAAs and bringing one of the most inspiring stories with him. (USATSI)

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