Payne leads Racers past Panthers

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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Murray State sophomore guard Cameron Payne scored 22 points in the 65-57 win over the Eastern men’s basketball team.

Freshman Cornell Johnston goes up for a basket during the Panthers' 73-65 win over Southeast Missouri on Sunday at Lantz Arena.  Johnston scored 12 points for the Panthers.  The Panthers lost to Murray State 65-57 on Thursday and will play Wednesday in Nashville in the OVC tournament.

Jason Howell
Freshman Cornell Johnston goes up for a basket during the Panthers’ 73-65 win over Southeast Missouri on Sunday at Lantz Arena. Johnston scored 12 points for the Panthers. The Panthers lost to Murray State 65-57 on Thursday and will play Wednesday in Nashville in the OVC tournament.

Payne shot 6-of-22 from the floor and was 3-of-8 from the 3-point line. He also shot 7-of-8 from the free throw line.

The Racers have now won 23 consecutive games and are 15-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play.

Eastern will find out their tournament seeding later in the week, while the Racers will receive a double-round bye as the No. 1 seed.

The Panthers were led by junior forward Chris Olivier who finished with 17 points, which is the third straight game he’s led Eastern in scoring.

Olivier helped the Panthers cut the Racer lead to single-digits at several points in the game, including scoring six-straight points with around four minutes remaining in the second half. Racer senior guard T.J. Sapp would hit a 3-point shot on the next possession to put the Racers back up by 11.

Eastern senior guard Reggie Smith said the team did not get off to the start they wanted, falling behind 12-0 to start the game.

“We started the game pretty flat but began to pick up our energy as it went on,” Smith said. “Overall I feel good about our effort throughout the game.”

Murray State’s starters scored 61 of their 65 points, with three players reaching double-digit points. Along with Payne, fellow guard Sapp finished with 13 points, while forward senior forward Jarvis Williams finished with 17 points.

“We can’t let a team like them get up and down the court. We did a good job at that,” Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said. “A lot of turnovers were self-inflicted errors just staring down opponents and trying to make plays happen that weren’t there.”

Eastern held the Racers to a 34 percent shooting, which is one of the lowest percentages the Racers have shot all season.

“A lot of their points come from fast breaks so we tried to take that away as much as possible,” Smith said. “We had to get back in transition and make the play half court.”

Eastern junior Trae Anderson also finished with double-digit points for the Panthers, finishing with 13 points. Both he and Olivier finished with six rebounds each. Smith and senior Josh Piper followed with eight, apiece.

Spoonhour was happy with the effort his team put in on Thursday heading into the OVC tournament next week.

“We fought and kept battling and playing hard,” Spoonhour said. “I’m proud of our effort, and we’ll see what happens next week in Nashville.”

Eastern was able to cut the Racers lead down to six with two minutes remaining, when Piper and junior guard LeTrell Viser each hit 3-point shots, and Olivier added a layup to get the Panthers closer than they’d been all game. The Racers would erase that run with a 7-0 later on and took a 34-21 at the half.

Eastern finishes the regular season 16-13 and 9-7 in OVC play. A loss by Morehead State this weekend will make them the number six seed at the OVC tournament, while two wins would make them the sixth seed. They’ll play next Wednesday in the opening round of the tournament.

Heading into the tournament, the Panthers have everyone back and are ready to go to Nashville.

“We played short-handed for a little bit this year,” Spoonhour said. “Now we’ve got everybody back together and we’ll see what happens.”

 

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