Panthers unfazed over first-round opponent

Bob Reynolds, Sports Editor

The Eastern women’s basketball team is not overwhelmed over the fact it has to play top-seeded Tennessee-Martin in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

UT-Martin finished the conference season with a 16-0 record and has the leading scorer in the conference in sophomore Ashia Jones in its starting lineup. Jones is averaging 23 points per game.

Eastern freshman guard Grace Lennox said her team is unfazed at the fact the Skyhawks are undefeated.

“Our team wants to win,” she said. “We know that if we play like we can for 40 minutes, we can win the game. We have learned from our mistakes from last game and worked on improving those areas during practice.”

The Panthers played the Skyhawks just a week ago and lost, 63-60, at Lantz Arena.

Eastern coach Debbie Black said with it being so fresh in her teams’ head and that they were one shot away from pulling off the upset, she knows they can play with the Skyhawks.

“Three out of the four halves we have been right there,” she said. “We have to maintain our composure and obviously play like it’s our last game, which it is, unless we win.”

In the previous game against Tennessee-Martin, the Skyhawks needed a late 3-point shot by junior Katie Schubert to defeat Eastern.

Lennox also said with the game fresh in their minds, while it could be a good thing, it can turn around and hurt them as well.

“It is good as we can remember how they play,” she said. “On the other hand, they also got to know us better. Since the game was only last week, they wouldn’t have changed too greatly, which has enabled us to well prepare for them.”

In the first matchup, the Skyhawks defeated the Panthers, 81-51, back on Jan. 21. Skyhawk coach Kevin McMillan said he felt the Panthers ran out of gas with about 10 minutes left in the second half. Eastern was outscored, 45-20, in the second half.

McMillan said the 30-point differential in the first game was not indicative of how close of a matchup he thinks Wednesday’s game will be, but he thinks the second game does indicate the parity between the teams.

“The game at EIU was almost the identical game,” he said. “EIU didn’t run out of gas. They kept playing like you would expect. They have a young team. They learned from one game and played well enough to win the second time.”

Eastern senior forward Sabina Oroszova scored 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting and corralled 10 rebounds in the last matchup. Senior forward Arnisha Thomas scored 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.

McMillan said the one thing he took away from the previous matchup is the Panthers have greatly improved since their last matchup.

“Oroszova is the best player in the conference,” he said. “That is what I took away from it. She does so much for Eastern. Also, their young kids have grown up. They are playing really good.”

This is the eighth-straight OVC Tournament appearance for the Panthers. They played for three-straight OVC titles from 2008-2010.

This is the third time the Panthers will be playing the Skyhawks and have a 1-1 record against them. The last win came in 2010 in the semifinals.

Eastern and UT-Martin will tip-off at noon at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.

Bob Reynolds can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].