EKU Colonels, and fans, celebrate NCAA tourney selection

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMarch 16, 2014 

RICHMOND — After television basketball commentators announced Sunday night that the University of Kansas was the second seed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament, Eastern Kentucky University Coach Jeff Neubauer leaned forward in his seat.

And when Eastern Kentucky, the 15th seed, was announced as the Jayhawks' opponents, Neubauer and his entire team jumped from their seats and cheered.

So did the more than 1,000 Colonel fans gathered at a Sunday Selection Show at EKU's Center for the Arts.

The crowd included fans — both students and local residents — cheerleaders, the pep band and the dance team.

It will be the Colonels' second trip to the NCAA Tournament under Neubauer and the third time EKU has been to the tournament in the past 10 years. The Colonels beat Belmont 79-73 on March 8 to win the Ohio Valley Conference championship, guaranteeing their spot in the tournament.

The team will play Kansas on Friday in St. Louis.

After the Sunday show, Neubauer said he was thankful that his team was slated to play on Friday and in St. Louis, the closest host city in the first round of the tournament.

"Obviously, we're thrilled to see our name up there," Neubauer said. "We didn't care if there was a 15, or 14 or 2. The number didn't matter. We knew that we were going to be playing against a great team."

EKU players said it was a relief to know who they were going to play on Friday. Internet gossip had predicted that they would face Duke. Instead, it will be Kansas.

Both are formidable opponents for the Colonels, who were 24-9 for the season.

"Kansas easily could have been a No. 1 seed in this tournament," Neubauer said. "It's certainly one of the best-coached basketball teams in the country. They are led by one of the best freshmen in the country in Andrew Wiggins."

"It's a tough matchup," said Marcus Lewis, a senior guard from Illinois. But Lewis added that the back injury of Kansas center Joel Embiid will give EKU an opportunity. "We can prepare all week for them."

Eric Stutz, a junior forward from Newburgh, Ind., said the Sunday celebration was surreal. He's watched the selection show all of his life "hoping you'll get to see your name up there someday," Stutz said. It happened on Sunday.

In seven trips to the NCAA Tournament, Eastern Kentucky has never won a game.

More recently, in 2005, EKU was beaten in the first round by the University of Kentucky. In 2007, Eastern Kentucky was beaten by the University of North Carolina in the first round.

But EKU players said 2014 may be the year that changes.

"If this isn't the year, I don't know when it's going to be," Lewis said.

Beth Musgrave: (859)231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall

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