Panthers face Murray State in season finale

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The Eastern men’s basketball team will face Ohio Valley Çonference regular season champion Murray State Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the CFSB Center in Murray, Ky. for their final regular season game of the season.

Both teams have qualified for the OVC tournament, which begins next week in Nashville. The Racers will receive a double round bye as the tournament’s No. 1 seed.

Eastern’s seeding in the tournament is still on the line in this matchup. The Panthers can be seeded as high as third and as low as sixth, depending on the outcome of their game and others from around the OVC this weekend.

The Panthers could possibly face Murray State at some point in the tournament. However, the Panthers are not intimidated by facing the OVC’s unbeaten Racers, especially point guard Cornell Johnston, the OVC’s freshman of the week.

“We’re ready to play them,” Eastern guard Cornell Johnston said. “We want to make it to the NCAA tournament, and we’ll beat Murray State if we have to, to get there.”

Johnston averaged 13.5 points per game in two games last weekend and had a combined total of 10 assists in both games.

The Racers are currently 24-4 overall and 14-0 in OVC play and have the second longest winning streak in the nation, 22, behind No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Kentucky. If Murray State finishes unbeaten in the conference they’ll be the fifth team in OVC history to finish unbeaten, and the first since Austin Peay in the 2003-04 season.

Eastern is 16-12 overall and 9-7 in the OVC having secured their first winning season since 2010, after a victory over Southeast Missouri on Sunday night.  The Panthers were defeated by Murray State earlier this year 67-52 at home.

“Our assistant coaches have watched film of them and they think this is the best Murray State they’ve ever seen,” Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said. “That guard Cameron Payne is one of the best in the nation.”

Payne scored 33 points in the last matchup with the Panthers and has averaged nearly 21 points per game this season. He leads the OVC in points per game, as well as assists, averaging 5.7 per game.

Eastern junior forward Chris Olivier tallied a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Since his return from illness he has averaged nearly 21 points per game. That includes 25 and 20-point performances in Eastern’s last two games.

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