Junior forward Trae Anderson came to Eastern knowing he could provide offense since the beginning of the season, and he has since become the Panthers’ leading scorer.
Anderson is averaging 12.1 points per game this season. He sits in the top 15 Ohio Valley Conference players in both scoring and field goal percentage.
He has connected on nearly 50% of all his shots this season.
“I knew what I was capable of doing on offense,” Anderson said. “I’m just trying to use those skills and bring it into the game.”
Anderson is a junior transfer from Southwestern Illinois College. This is his first year playing for Eastern and under the command of head coach Jay Spoonhour.
He went from being one of the newest members on the team to being an offensive focal point for the Panthers. Anderson said his successful progression came through a process of hard work and maintaining focus.
“I’m just trying to focus on what I need to do and listen to what coaches are saying,” Anderson said.
Anderson has seen his scoring average steadily rise over the course of the season. Over the last four games, he has averaged nearly 15 points per game including a season high 22-point performance. This scoring outburst came in the absence of junior forward and fellow offensive threat Chris Olivier.
Prior to the last five games, Anderson had missed three straight games with an ankle sprain. He said the injury has been one of his biggest obstacles this season that have forced any sort of adjustment to his game.
“The injury was probably the biggest thing for me,” he said. “It’s a little harder to move around.”
Anderson was playing against Cleveland State University on December 23 when he went in for a lay-up and came down on a defenders foot causing the sprain. He scored 12 points that game despite playing just 18 total minutes.
Anderson picked up right where he left off in his first game back from injury in Eastern’s matchup with Belmont University on January 10. He scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting against the Bruins.
At one time Spoonhour said Anderson had a tendency to try and dribble through traffic and make more difficult plays. He said Anderson has done a good job of just letting the game come to him since coming off the injury.
“When I hurt my ankle and got back out there, I was a little more patient on offense,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he began to realize patience is the key to offense. He said trying to dribble through two or three defenders does not typically work out.
The Panthers usually run offense through a lot of extra passes looking for Olivier posting up under the hoop. Eastern has recently faced more stubborn defenses that have forced a change in the game plan.
Anderson found himself running isolation plays where he was given the ball at the perimeter and expected to take his defender one-on-one straight to the hoop.
This strategy was not something the Panthers had previously done until they faced a relentless post-defense in the likes of Murray State University.
“It wasn’t something we planned,” Anderson said. “It just came in the flow of the game.”
Anderson is listed as a forward but plays with the skills and mentality of a guard.
Spoonhour has seen Anderson’s ability to handle the ball since before he was a member of Eastern’s basketball team. Anderson played in an open gym practice last spring at Eastern before he was enrolled.
“That open gym was designed to see if I could play here or not,” Anderson said. “They weren’t really recruiting me like they were other players.”
Anderson’s teammates said he came to that open gym and “schooled” the Panthers’ then leading scorer Sherman Blanford. They said this is where Anderson ultimately earned his scholarship.
“I was just playing basketball,” Anderson said. “I’m not going to say I schooled him.”
Although his scoring average continues to rise, Anderson is not concerned with his offensive totals. He is more interested in improving himself as an overall player and not just a scorer.
“I kind of lessened my focus on scoring,” he said. “I am just trying to be more of an all-around player.”
Anderson’s biggest concern right now is honing his defensive skills. He said defense is what the Panthers have mostly been working on in practice.
The Panthers have remained to toughest defense in the OVC this season giving up the fewest points of all 12 teams.
“I feel like we aren’t guarding as well as we were previously,” Anderson said. “We aren’t locked in as much.”
He said the team has put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed and have raised their expectations after going on a nine-game win streak.
“I feel like we have to put pressure on ourselves so we can go out and do it,” Anderson said.
All in all, Anderson is just enjoying the ride.
“I’m just having fun and playing basketball,” he said.
Jehad Abbed can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]