Johnston, Olivier lead Panthers to first OVC tournament victory since 2010

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Johnston, Olivier lead Panthers to first OVC tournament victory since 2010

Junior forward Chris Olivier goes up for a shot during the Panthers' victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 78-66 in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Men's Basketball Championship on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn.  Olivier was 10-13 from the field goal line and scored 24 points during the game.

Junior forward Chris Olivier goes up for a shot during the Panthers' victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 78-66 in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Men's Basketball Championship on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. Olivier was 10-13 from the field goal line and scored 24 points during the game.

Jason Howell

Junior forward Chris Olivier goes up for a shot during the Panthers' victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 78-66 in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Men's Basketball Championship on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. Olivier was 10-13 from the field goal line and scored 24 points during the game.

Jason Howell

Jason Howell

Junior forward Chris Olivier goes up for a shot during the Panthers' victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 78-66 in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Men's Basketball Championship on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. Olivier was 10-13 from the field goal line and scored 24 points during the game.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Freshman guard Cornell Johnston and junior forward Chris Olivier combined for 46 points in the Eastern men’s basketball 78-66 win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville Wednesday.

Johnston heated up in the second half, as he scored 18 of his 22 points in that half. Johnston’s stretch included three consecutive three pointers finishing the night 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Olivier led the Panthers with a game-high 24 points. Olivier and junior forward Trae Anderson were able to take advantage of the Cougars’ defense that was missing starting forward Keaton Jackson, who was plagued by foul trouble throughout the game.

Anderson and Olivier accounted for 38 of the Panthers 78 points, with Anderson finishing with 14. They scored on three straight possessions highlighted by an Olivier dunk to help put the Panthers back on top, after falling behind 17-13 with 11:01 remaining in the first half.

“When Jackson left they switched to a zone, but we were prepared,” Olivier said. “Now we got to get back and watch film and come back ready tomorrow.”

Anderson would hit two free throws on the last possession to give Eastern the lead, which they held on to for the rest of the first half.

The Panthers forced 11 turnovers and started the second half off by stopping the Cougars on their first four possessions, leading to a 9-2 run after coming out of the locker room. All nine points came from Anderson and Olivier, including a three-point shot by Anderson to beat the shot clock.

Eastern’s defense didn’t allow an Edwardsville player to reach double-figure scoring until the around the 13-minute mark of the second half.

Senior guard Maurice Wiltz shrunk the Panther lead to 45-39 with 12:46 left in the 2nd half with his 11th point of the game. The Panthers previously led by as much as 12 in the second half.

Spoonhour called timeout and made some adjustments to the Panthers’ defense, which was allowing the cougars to crawl back into the game.

“When we played them at their place, we allowed them to penetrate,” Sponnhour said. “We had to try a change to keep them from driving through the middle. The guys did a good job of remembering those adjustments.”

Eastern’s senior guard Reggie Smith added 10 points while going 3-of-4 from the foul line. The Panthers shot 79.2 percent from the foul line.

The win sends the Panthers to the quarterfinals, where they will face No. 3 Belmont in their hometown of Nashville. The Panthers defeated the Bruins 84-73 at Lantz Arena, limiting the OVC’s second-highest scoring offense to shooting 7-of-43 from three point range in the only matchup between the two teams this season.

“We’re not going to be able to rely on the shooting night they had at our place,” Spoonhour said. “We’re going to have to really rely on defending the three, and we’ll do our best.”

The Panthers tip-off against Belmont at 8 p.m. Thursday in the second round of the OVC tournament in Nashville.

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