Panthers battle Austin Peay in OVC showdown

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team looks to get even with Austin Peay State University on Thursday night.

The Panthers lost to the Governors last month 56-52, and are currently in the middle of a three game road trip.

“(Austin Peay) pressed us and did a job defensively,” Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said. “We need to play smart on the road. A win on the road would be big for a chance to get to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.”

Eastern is currently 14-10 overall and 7-4 in OVC play, but have lost their last two games on the road.

In the last few weeks, health has been an issue for the Panthers. Junior forward Chris Olivier who has missed the last weeks due to illness. Senior guard Reggie Smith missed the Panthers’ last game against Southeast Missouri on Saturday, but he did practice on Monday.

“Reggie looked fine in practice earlier this week and should be able to play,” Spoonhour said. “We’re still waiting on Chris, who has mono. It could be a month but we’re still continuing to monitor his progress.”

Junior forward Trae Anderson has scored at least 20 points in three of the last five games in Olivier’s absence. This stretch includes a season-high 25-point performance in the last game with Southeast Missouri.

Junior Center Chris Horton had 12 points and 12 rebounds on top of two blocks for the Governors. Even though Horton’s presence in the front court was challenging for the Panthers, Spoonhour said that he is not looking to get Horton in foul trouble.

“He did a good job of not fouling that last game,” Spoonhour said. “We don’t want to get him in foul trouble though. When you do that you’re not thinking about scoring.”

Spoonhour said that the Panthers must take better care of the ball this Thursday, especially after commiting 16 turnovers in Saturday’s loss to Southeast Missouri. The Redhawks recorded 12 steals against Eastern.

“You can’t let them take it in like they did Saturday,” Spoonhour said. “We didn’t handle the press very well. That’s a big concern for Thursday’s game because Austin Peay likes to press.”

The Governors will be playing the last of a five game home stand, but have lost all four games at home. Their last win came against the Panthers.

Spoonhour said that Eastern is not concerned with the game as a means of redemption.

“We just need to take these last few games as they come, and get to work on getting better,” Spoonhour said.

Freshman guard Cornell Johnston only needs 10 assists to break the school’s freshman assist record set by Mike Robinson in the 2005-06 season. Johnston has 105 assists on the season, and ranks fifth in the OVC in assists with 4.4 per game.  He dished out eight assists in the last meeting with Austin Peay.

Tip-off time is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Thursday at the Dunn Center in Clarksville, TN, as the Panthers look for their eighth victory of the OVC season.

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