Panthers win 7th straight

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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Saturday’s matchup between the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team and Belmont began as a contest between the Ohio Valley Conference’s two first place teams, but at the end of the day, it was the Panthers who led from start to finish for an 84-73 victory.

 

The Panthers had five players reach double digits in points including LeTrell Viser, Reggie Smith, Chris Olivier, Trae Anderson and Luke Norman. Norman recorded 10 points, while Anderson, making his return from an ankle injury and Viser finished with 13. Olivier and Smith finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively.

 

Those five played a big role in getting the Panthers to its seventh consecutive victory and first 4-0 start in OVC play.

 

Despite all that offensive production, Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said he was more proud of his team’s defensive effort, especially guarding Belmont’s Craig Bradshaw.

 

“What I’m proud of our guys for is that we made Craig Bradshaw take hard shots. He didn’t get a whole lot of three’s off until late,” Spoonhour said. “Dylan Chatman did a great job chasing him around all game because we know how good the guy is. He’s a great player.”

 

Bradshaw finished with nine points, going 4-of-13 from the field.

 

Chatman was a force on the defensive end for the Panthers, finishing with five rebounds and one steal.

 

He recorded no points, but fellow guard Luke Norman, who usually plays in a limited role for the Panthers, found his shooting form and finished with a season-high 10 points, including going a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and adding three assists.

 

Norman said that it was great to finally shoot the ball, even though he’s not big on stats.

 

“I’m not real big on stats or anything, but when I’m open I’ve got to shoot them and knock them down because that’s what I’m out here for,” Norman said.

 

Spoonhour said that Norman is a great shooter, but seems to question his shots, which he needs to let go of.

“I think he’s conflicted with the coaches, because he thinks every shot is probably not a good shot or is this what coach wants,” Spoonhour said. “He needs to knock that off, because he can really shoot.”

Anderson’s return to action resulted in him getting 13 points and three rebounds on the offensive glass. He said that the decision was made for his return based on how he did in practice.

“It was basically about how I performed in practice,” Anderson said. “I thought the ball-handling in regards to getting lay ups was pretty easy, especially with our seniors and leaders getting me in the right spots to make those shots.”

Spoonhour said that Anderson was great at handling the ball and finishing at the rim.

“Obviously there were some things that were hard for him to do,” Spoonhour said. “I thought what he did the best job of was handle the ball and finish at the rim. We don’t have many of those guys.”

In the second half the Bruins resorted to pressing the Panthers’ attack and were able to shrink the Panthers lead to 76-66 with 1:55 remaining. They would extend that to a 10-2 run to get them within seven, 78-71, with 1:16 remaining.

Spoonhour said that being up big the whole game, including an 18-point lead with 8:07 left in the second half, was different for the Panthers and why they stumbled later.

“We weren’t sure how we were going to hang on to the lead because we’ve been behind for several games in a row,” Spoonhour said. “Hanging onto the lead, especially when they were trapping us was not easy.”

In spite of the 4-0 start, Spoonhour said that Eastern’s goal remains the same: they want to finish above .500. However, there is still a long way to go to get there.

“This is going to be really hard coming up. There’s nobody that’s going to go into Morehead State or Eastern Kentucky and come out with easy wins,” Spoonhour said. “I want them to think we’re going to win, but I know it’s going to be tough.”

 

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