First-half run leads to Eastern win

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Jason Howell

Jason Howell | The Daily Eastern NewsJunior forward Chris Olivier drives to the basket during the Panthers' 81-51 win against the Eureka College Red Devils on Monday at Lantz Arena.

Jehad Abbed, Staff Reporter

Eastern used size and shooting to overcome a sluggish start in the Panthers 81-51 victory over Eureka College at Lantz Arena Monday night.

Eastern picked up its first regular-season win, as the Panthers improved to 1-1 this season.

The Panthers started off slow, while Eureka opened up with early jumpers and drew two early shooting fouls under the basket. Eureka came out with a sense of urgency helping it chase down a couple quick offensive rebounds.

Forward Parker Gibson made two quick 3-pointers and led the Red Devils with 12 points.

“I just didn’t like our energy,” Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said, “I thought we got to where our guys were trying to steal the ball too much.”

Despite the control the Red Devils took in the first few minutes of the game, the score stayed close.  Both teams started the game knocking down 6-of-11 shot attempts.

Eastern continued to shoot well at 55.2 percent for the first half, while the Red Devils dropped to 32.1 percent and hit just three more shots. Freshman guard Cornell Johnston took control of the Panthers’ offense recording seven of his eight assists in the first half.

“I feel like when my team’s working with me, it’s them making me look good,” Johnston said, “Everyone was making the extra pass and trusting one another.”

Sophomore forward Jake Verhagen entered the game about six minutes into the first half and provided instant offense and energy for Eastern. He scored seven straight points and recorded a blocked shot leading to a steal that ignited the Panthers on both sides of the ball.

Verhagen’s short spurt of offense was the start of a run that gave Eastern its second lead of the game and then some. Eastern remained locked in and managed to go on a 31-12 run to cap off the half.

Eastern forced a string of turnovers and missed shots from Eureka. The Panthers stepped up their full court pressure and smothered ball handlers in half court sets. The Red Devils failed to hit a shot for the last 8:14 of the first half.

Junior Forward Chris Olivier led the way for the Panthers with 13 points and seven rebounds. He scored seven straight points within the first five minutes of the second half.

“We got the ball to (Olivier) before the double team could get there,” Spoonhour said, “He did a good job of not holding on to it very long and just scoring it.”

Eastern carried its dominance into the second half by pounding the ball inside looking to Olivier and senior forward Keenen Anderson. The Panthers outscored the Red Devils in the paint by 28 points.

Anderson recorded 12 points and eight rebounds on a 4-of-4 shooting performance.

He led the way for the bench that outscored Eureka’s 45-5.

The Panthers play their second straight home game, hosting UC Davis at 7 p.m. Thursday in Lantz Arena.

Jehad Abbed can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]