Panthers defeat Gamecocks for fifth straight win

Jehad Abbed, Assistant Sports Editor

The Eastern men’s basketball team overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to beat Jacksonville State University Saturday in an overtime battle to continue a five-game win streak.

Junior forward Chris Olivier led the way for the (8-6) Panthers with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds as they beat (8-8) Jacksonville 59-50.  Olivier leads the team this season with 11.9 points per game.

“The coaches and the team believe in me,” Olivier said. “I just don’t want to let those guys down.”

He recorded an assist on a drop-off pass late in the second half to senior forward Josh Piper that tied the game. Olivier drew a double-team from Jacksonville State defenders that left Piper open under the basket for the lay-up that would send the game into overtime.

“We knew that was how we were going to win this game,” Piper said. “(Olivier) was going to take us home.”

Piper finished the game with eight points and seven rebounds in a rare 36 minutes of playing time for the senior.

“I was a little tired after the first half,” Piper said. “I was able to catch a second wind for the second half.”

Both the Panthers and the Gamecocks shot below 30-percent in the first half. Jacksonville maintained a lead for most of the game due to second chance points by way of 15 offensive rebounds.

“Jacksonville State played awful hard,” Eastern Coach Jay Spoonhour said. “We took some bad shots, but they had a big hand in that.”

The Gamecocks had three players who recorded more than 40 minutes of time on the floor. One of which was senior guard Avery Moore who led the team with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Moore capped off a 12-2 run midway through the second half with a three-pointer from well beyond the arc to beat the shot clock. What seemed like an exclamation point turned into motivation for the Panthers.

“We believe in each other,” Olivier said. “We just keep fighting and fighting to come back.”

The Panthers turned it on to go on a run of their own. Senior guard Reggie Smith immediately answered the Gamecocks’ run with a steal and a two-handed slam-dunk that instantly ignited his team’s play.

“We were down 12 and we had to do something,” Spoonhour said. “So we played a smaller group of guys to try and turn up the pressure a little bit more.”

Junior guard LeTrell Viser hit a three-pointer just moments later to bring the Panthers within five points.  Viser later sunk another to give Eastern a four-point lead in overtime.

Spoonhour said he thought the difference between the looks Viser got at the basket from the first half to the second half had to do with the fatigue Gamecocks players were experiencing after playing so many minutes.

“Viser is such a streaky and rhythm shooter,” Spoonhour said. “When he makes one, he’s libel to make a few more after that.”

Viser finished with nine points of 3-of-6 shooting from the field.  Eight players managed to score in the game for the Panthers.  The bench managed to outscore Jacksonville’s bench by 23 points.

“We fought so hard to come back and get it tied,” Piper said. “We had to go in and take over in overtime.”

Eastern outscored the Gamecocks 13-4 in overtime on 60 percent shooting.

“These guys are doing a good job,” Spoonhour said. “They try hard and they work together.”

Eastern is now 2-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play. They look to continue their streak and strong play within the OVC as they face Tennessee State University at 7 pm Wednesday in Nashville.

Jehad Abbed can be reached at 217-581-2812 or [email protected].