Panthers host Aces in 2nd round of CIT

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

Postseason basketball will make an appearance at Lantz Arena Monday Night as the Eastern men’s basketball team will take on Evansville in the second round of the Tournament.

The Panthers found out about their second round matchup on Wednesday, a day after they defeated Oakland 97-91 on the road, which was their 18th win of the season. Evansville defeated IPFW 82-77 on the same night for their 20th win of the season.

The game was moved to Charleston because of scheduling complications in Evansville. The Division II Finals will be held at Evansville’s Ford Center next week, giving the Panthers a home court advantage for this postseason matchup.

“ I thought we’d go somewhere,” Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said. “It’s great having a home game, but there’s a benefit to traveling too when everyone is together. At this time of the year that’s important to a team.”

The Panthers will be together with their home fans, including the Eastern students who are returning from spring break. Students can get in for free at Monday’s game by showing their ID when they enter.

Having good home crowds this season has been something that freshman guard Cornell Johnston has enjoyed this season.

“We love our fans,” Johnston said. “It’s always nice when you’re able to look up into the stands after a game and see your loved ones and fans and give them a smile and let you them know you see them.”

Eastern fans will also have a chance to see former All-State basketball player Marty Simmons, who won a Super Sectional title with Lawrenceville at Lantz Arena during the early 1980s. Simmons is now the head coach at Evansville, where he has led the Purple Aces to two 20-win seasons in the last three years.

Despite the luxury of having a home game, this second round matchup will cost the Eastern athletic department a substantial amount of money to host this game. The Panthers will pay approximately $36,500 for their home-court advantage.

However, Eastern athletic director Tom Michael said the money will be coming from private donations, rather than the school’s funds. Michael said it is still exciting to have a home game this time of year, no matter the cost.

“The part that’s exciting and should have the campus excited is we’re going to have March Madness at Lantz Arena,” Michael said. “We will have a good environment.”

This good environment will see Eastern and Evansville battle on the hardwood for the first time since the 2008-09 season. The Purple Aces are led by junior guard D.J. Balentine who is averaging 19.4 points per game. He scored a season-high 35 points in Evansville’s win last Tuesday.

“We’ve had some good practices the last few weeks,” Spoonhour said. “This tournament’s been good because we have more time to prepare for games and it gives the seniors a chance to end their career with different, better memories.”

In Eastern’s last game, senior guards Reggie Smith and Dylan Chatman combined for 43 of the Panthers 97 points. Smith and Chatman hit four three pointers apiece in Eastern’s first Division I postseason victory.

Chatman said that his team seems more loose in the last few weeks, but there is a reason for that.

“When everyone is clicking, it lets us know we don’t have to count on one person to make buckets,” Chatman said. “We’re playing more freely now, because we don’t have anything to lose.”

The Panthers and Purple Aces will tip-off at 7 p.m. at Lantz Arena.

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