Experience, depth brings new look to Panthers

Anthony Catezone, Managing Editor

The Eastern men’s basketball team will operate as fast as it possibly can this season.

That was the goal last season, before inexperience, turnovers and desperate play-making mistakes all interrupted that goal.

“You always go as fast as you can go,” coach Jay Spoonhour said. “If we make poor plays, we need to slow down and hang on to the ball.”

This year, inexperience is essentially nonexistent. The Panthers return 11 players from last season’s No. 7 seeded team in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

Turnovers and desperate play making, however, are yet to be weeded out completely, but Spoonhour is optimistic, if his first two seasons as the men’s basketball coach are any indication.

“There are more good plays and fewer bad plays than what was being made at this time last year,” Sponnhour said.

Last year was second installment in the Spoonhour era at Eastern. The Panthers produced back-to-back 11-win seasons and back-to-back first round losses to Southeast Missouri in the conference tournament.

And while last year the Panthers tried to speed up their play, the turnovers halted any such attempt.

“A lot of the mistakes were guys trying to do too much, forcing plays that just weren’t there,” Spoonhour said.

But this year has brought a more mature team to Lantz Arena. Spoonhour said it has been the most talented team he has coached in his three years with the program.

“It’s the old ‘rising tide lifts all boats,’” Spoonhour said. “Everybody has to play better because they are more good players on the team.”

With that being said, Eastern was still picked to finish fifth of six teams in the west division of the OVC.

Though that could be because most of the OVC has yet to get a glimpse of the few new additions the Panthers were able to recruit in the offseason.

But Spoonhour knows who he has.

For example, freshman guard Cornell Johnston.

“(Johnston) changes the game,” Spoonhour said. “He’s able to get guys shots — which we haven’t been able to do for awhile.”

Or junior transfer guard LeTrell ‘Snoop’ Viser.

“He has really good feel defensively,” Spoonhour said. “We’re trying to get him to have that feel all the time.”

Both open the door for senior guard Reggie Smith, who, for the first time in his collegiate career, is at the same school for consecutive years.

Smith is the Panthers’ returning leading scorer with 13.1 points per game in 2013. Now, Smith is sliding from point guard to shooting guard, where the offense does not have to run through him, rather run with him.

“(Smith) was forced into making plays just because we didn’t have many guys that could create,” Spoonhour said.

Spoonhour said he is hoping the additions of Johnston and Viser will create plays for Smith.

“It will be nice to take that burden off of (Smith), where he can just think about getting open, taking the plays that come and shooting open shots.”

Anthony Catezone can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]