Panthers host UT-Martin

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The Eastern men’s basketball team will start its final home stand Thursday night when they host Tennessee-Martin at 7 p.m. in Lantz Arena.0219_MBALL_KH

Both teams are in the thick of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament picture with the Skyhawks just ahead of the Panthers in the OVC’s west division.

The Skyhawks come in with an overall record of 16-9 and an 8-4 record in OVC action.

The Panthers are a half a game behind the Skyhawks, and have a 15-11 record overall and a 8-5 record in the OVC. Tennessee-Martin defeated the Panthers 81-51 in their last matchup.

Freshman guard Cornell Johnston said Eastern needs to pick up another win before the OVC tournament in two weeks.

“Right now, we’re looking at if we get a win the next two games, we get a bye,” Johnston said. “If we lose we play out as one of the lower seeds.”

The game will be shown on the American Sports Network, and will be carried on Comcast Sportsnet Plus. The game is being promoted as a “White Out,” with all fans encouraged to wear white for the second televised contest held in Lantz Arena this season.

“We love our fans,” Johnston said. “It’s always good to look up into the stands after a game and see that people came for you. It is nice to smile at them and let them know you see them.

Eastern has three games left on the schedule, all against west divisional opponents, who defeated the Panthers earlier this year. They include Tennesse-Martin, Southeast Missouri State and Murray State.

Both of the OVC’s co-newcomers of the week will be on display Thursday night in junior forwards Trae Anderson of Eastern and Twymond Howard of Tennessee-Martin..

Anderson averaged 16 points and four rebounds in two games last week, including a 19 point and six rebound performance in a 66-55 victory over Austin Peay.

He added 11 points and three assists in a loss to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville Saturday.

Howard posted similar numbers last week, averaging 14 points and eight rebounds, beginning with a game-high 21 point performance in a loss to Southeast Missouri.

Howard posted a game-high of 11 rebounds while scoring seven points in a victory over Austin Peay.

Eastern, one of the best defenses in the OVC, ranks second in the OVC in field goal defense, holding opponents to a .411 shooting per game. Opposing offenses average less than 60 points in the last four games against the Panthers.

“We’ve got to be ready to defend. Defense will win us this game,” Johnston said. “If we key and stay locked in on defense, I think we will win this game.”

Eastern faces a Skyhawks team, who is shooting percentage of .475 ranks third in the OVC behind Belmont University and unbeaten Murray State.

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