BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – After leading Murray State to just the fifth undefeated Conference season in Ohio Valley Conference history, Murray State sophomore point guard Cameron Payne was named 2014-15 OVC Player of the Year while his coach Steve Prohm took home OVC Coach of the Year honors in voting by league head coaches and sports information directors. In additional voting Eastern Kentucky senior guard Corey Walden repeated as OVC Defensive Player of the Year while Eastern Illinois guard Cornell Johnston was named OVC Freshman of the Year.
In the now seven-year history of the OVC Defensive Player of the Year Award, Walden is the second player to repeat as winner, joining Morehead State All-American and NBA player Kenneth Faried (who won three-straight from 2009-11). Entering this week Walden ranks second nationally in steals (3.0/game) for an Eastern Kentucky team that is currently first nationally in turnover margin (+7.6/game). Walden also helped his team rank second in the OVC in scoring defense (63.3 points/game allowed) and hold 21 of the team’s 29 opponents to under 70 points this season. During the final week of the regular season he broke into the OVC single-season steals Top 10 (84 – he now ranks ninth) as well as the OVC career steals Top 10 (221 – he ranks eighth); those 221 career steals is also tied for first place in EKU history. He opened the season with a career-high eight swipes against Savannah State and had three other games where he had five or more steals in 2014-15.
Payne becomes the first sophomore to be named OVC Player of the Year since Austin Peay’s Drake Reed took home the award in 2006-07, and the second MSU sophomore to win the award (joining the legendary Popeye Jones in 1989-90). He is the 13th Murray State player to take home the honor and first since Isaiah Canaan won back-to-back awards in 2012 and 2013. After leading the Racers to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) Championship a season ago, Payne was named Preseason OVC Player of the Year heading into this season and backed up those predictions. He enters the postseason ranking 13th nationally in scoring (20.2 points/game), 21st in assists (5.7/game) and 39th in steals (1.97/game). Among OVC players the Memphis native ranks first in scoring and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4), second in assists, third in steals, fifth in 3-pointers made/game (2.2) and seventh in free throw shooting (78.9%). Payne has scored 30 or more points in three different games this season (all coming on the road) and scored in double figures in all but one contest. He dished out a season-high nine assists twice and also pulled down 10 rebounds in a victory over Eastern Kentucky. He was named OVC Player of the Week five times during the year but more importantly he helped his team win, as the Racers have reeled off 24 consecutive victories which established a new OVC record for longest winning streak (topping a mark the 2011-12 MSU team set). The Racers also became the first team to go through the OVC season undefeated since 2003-04 and this week jumped into both the USA Today Coaches Poll (No. 24) and the Associated Press Poll (No. 25), becoming the first OVC team to be ranked since the 2011-12 season.
Prohm picked up his second OVC Coach of the Year honor and first since his inaugural season with the team in 2011-12. After taking that club to a 31-2 overall record and Top 10 national ranking, Prohm did it this season by relying on Payne, the sophomore point guard, and a great shooting offense. After starting the season just 2-4 overall, Prohm’s club made some adjustments and have not lost since, reeling off 24-straight victories entering the week; that streak is the second-longest active streak nationally and is the longest in OVC history (breaking a mark of 23 set by the Racers in the 2011-12 season). The team also completed a perfect 16-0 league mark, marking just the fifth time in league history a team had gone through League play undefeated, and also entered the national Top 25 polls this week, becoming the first OVC team to be nationally ranked since the Racers were in 2011-12. During the season Prohm also posted his 100th career victory, becoming the fastest coach in Murray State’s prestigious history to reach that plateau; he enters the postseason with a 101-27 (.789) records in four years at MSU. Overall Prohm is the sixth different Murray State coach to win a pair of OVC Coach of the Year Awards; overall the program has had 10 different coaches take home the league’s top honor a total of 16 times.
Johnston helped the Eastern Illinois team to just its second overall winning season since 2001, as the Panthers made a five-game improvement from last season to finish with 16 overall victories. The Panthers also started Conference play 6-0 and finished with nine overall league victories in the third year under head coach Jay Spoonhour. Along the way the diminutive point guard set the Eastern Illinois freshman record for assists (130 and counting) and he enters the postseason ranked third in the OVC in assists (4.5/game). He has also torched the nets from 3-point range, leading all OVC players with a 52.2 percentage on the season; that number is even better over the final 13 games of the regular season as he connected on 66 percent (31-of-47) over that time period. He scored a season-high 22 points in a victory at Morehead State and was named OVC Freshman of the Week four times and OVC Player of the Week once. He is the fourth different EIU player to be named OVC Freshman of the Year and first since Romain Martin shared the award in 2006-07.
This year’s first and second-team All-OVC squads include 10 players from six OVC schools. Belmont, Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and UT Martin (the top four seeds in this week’s tournament) each had two selections apiece. The first and second-teams included six seniors, two juniors and two sophomores.
Payne, the OVC Player of the Week, was the top vote getter and earned his second-straight All-OVC first-team selection. He was joined on the All-OVC first-team by two players who were second-team selections a season ago in Belmont junior guard Craig Bradshaw and Murray State senior forward Jarvis Williams. The team also includes the Eastern Kentucky senior guard Corey Walden, the OVC Defensive Player of the Year, and Eastern Kentucky senior forward Eric Stutz.
Bradshaw took over as Belmont’s leading scorer after the graduation of last year’s OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann. He enters the postseason averaging 17.9 points/game, which ranks third in the OVC and 49th nationally. The junior also ranks 29th nationally in 3-point percentage (41.7%) while ranking second in the OVC in 3-pointers made (2.5/game), eighth in steals (1.6/game) and ninth in assists (3.2/game) among league players. Earlier this season he scored 42 points in a road victory over Ohio, which is the fifth-most points by a Division I player this season; that performance earned him National Player of the Week honors. He was also named a CoSIDA Academic All-American for his work in the classroom (3.51 grade point average in public relations).
Williams helped Murray State to the OVC regular season championship by ranking third in the OVC in rebounding (8.3/game), fourth in field goal percentage (57.1%) and sixth in scoring (15.4 points/game) while also netting 10 double-doubles, which was the third-highest total in the league.
Walden and Stutz were a one-two combination for the defending OVC Tournament Champion Colonels, leading the team to first place in the East Division and the No. 2 overall seed for the OVC Tournament. While Walden led the team in scoring and shot 54.1 percent from the field while also being the team’s defensive stopper, Stutz has been one of the most improved players in the league. Entering this season he had career averages around 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds/game but blossomed this season in averaging 15.5 points (5th in the OVC) and 5.8 rebounds (11th in the OVC) per game while hitting 61.7 percent from the field, a percentage that ranks sixth in the nation.
The All-OVC second-team included one repeat selection in Southeast Missouri State senior swingman Jarekious Bradley. He was joined on the team by a pair of UT Martin senior guards in Deville Smith and Marshun Newell, Eastern Illinois junior swingman Trae Anderson and Belmont sophomore forward Evan Bradds.
The OVC All-Newcomer Team is was comprised of first-year players (freshman and transfers) in the league. Included in the selections was Johnston, the OVC Freshman of the Year, as well as Anderson and Smith, who were also second-team selections. The other selections on the team were Tennessee Tech junior center Charles Jackson and UT Martin junior forward Twymond Howard.
2014-15 Men’s Basketball All-OVC Teams and Awards
OVC Player of the Year: Cameron Payne, Murray State
OVC Defensive Player of the Year: Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky
OVC Freshman of the Year: Cornell Johnston, Eastern Illinois
OVC Coach of the Year: Steve Prohm, Murray State
ALL-OVC FIRST TEAM
Cameron Payne, Murray State
Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky
Craig Bradshaw, Belmont
Jarvis Williams, Murray State
Eric Stutz, Eastern Kentucky
ALL-OVC SECOND TEAM
Evan Bradds, Belmont
Marshun Newell, UT Martin
Jarekious Bradley, Southeast Missouri
Deville Smith, UT Martin
Trae Anderson, Eastern Illinois
Deville Smith, UT Martin
Trae Anderson, Eastern Illinois
Charles Jackson, Tennessee Tech
Cornell Johnston, Eastern Illinois
Twymond Howard, UT Martin