Panthers cruise over NAIA Eureka

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Panthers cruise over NAIA Eureka

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.

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.

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.

Jason Howell

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.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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With the constant double-teaming in the post from Eureka College’s 2-3 zone throughout the first half, the Eastern men’s basketball team was forced to take more outside shots to help bring home the victory on Monday night

The Panthers made seven of 12 threes in the first half to spark a 47-30 halftime lead for a 58.3 percent shooting performance, which eventually became an 81-51 victory at Lantz Arena. The Panthers finished shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, making 6-of-15.

Following last week’s exhibition game against Saint Francis (Ill.), Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said that the Panthers settled on too many threes, but that was not the case Monday night.

“It was all right tonight,” Spoonhour said. “There were maybe a couple that were too quick, but 20 is probably a hair too much. However, it’s hard to tell guys, who are hitting shots not to shoot, when they’re hitting them.”

Freshman point guard Cornell Johnston hit three of those three pointers for nine points, while also leading the Panthers in assists with eight.

“I feel like the team is working with me,” Johnston said. “They’re running the floor and hitting their spots in transition. I feel like its them that’s making me look good in transition.”

The Panthers’ perimeter game forced the Red Devils’ 2-3 zone to alter its strategy. This resulted in the Red Devils attempting more double teams on the perimeter, which gave power forward Chris Olivier more chances to score in the paint during the second half. Olivier once again led the Panthers scoring with 13 points. He also led the Panthers in rebounds with seven.

As Olivier heated up in the second half, the Panthers perimeter shooting cooled off, hitting only 25 percent of their shots from long range, resulting in Eastern hitting only 2-of-8 three pointers in the second half.

“That’s the hard part, settling for a shot early in the clock,” Spoonhour said. “Early in the clock when you settle for one pass and then shoot, that’s not very good.”

Spoonhour was happier with the offense getting the ball inside to Olivier, to pass it back outside, and reversing the ball to the other side for a shot, which he called more OK for the Panthers offense. Spoonhour also made adjustments at halftime, trying to get the Panthers to push the ball more quickly in transition.

“At halftime coach said he wanted us to get the ball out quick,” Johnston said. “I felt like the faster we pushed the ball, the better it was to get a good shot in transition against that zone, which showed so many looks tonight.”

Eureka also had a decent night shooting the ball. The Red Devils were 6-of-15 from 3-point range, which was good for a 40 percent shooting average.

Forward Parker Gibson was the leading scorer for the Red Devils, with 12 points, making 3-of-5 attempts from 3-point range. Fellow forward Sam James followed with 11 points and eight rebounds for Eureka.

The Panthers will return to action 7 p.m. Thursday in Lantz Arena against UC Davis.

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]