Panther basketball returns Tuesday night

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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Senior wing Trae Anderson attempts a shot during the Panthers' 97-64 loss to the Belmont Bruins in round two of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on March 5, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn.  Anderson scored 13 points for the Panthers.

Jason Howell
Senior wing Trae Anderson attempts a shot during the Panthers’ 97-64 loss to the Belmont Bruins in round two of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on March 5, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn. Anderson scored 13 points for the Panthers.

The Eastern men’s basketball team will begin its 2015-16 campaign Tuesday night, in an exhibition matchup with St. Francis of Illinois. Eastern defeated St. Francis 85-54 in its only exhibition game last year, and will face the Saints for its only exhibition game of the season.

Eastern has climbed the ranks in the Ohio Valley Conference this preseason. The Panthers were predicted to finish third in the OVC’s west division, which is above last season’s ranking of fifth in the division.

Jay Spoonhour is entering his fourth year as head coach and said that he’s content with the Panthers preseason ranking.

“I am glad we are where we are in the top half of the league,” Spoonhour said. “It’s been a struggle and it’s where we are trying to get. Hopefully we are picked a little under where we should be.”

The Panthers had one of their most successful seasons as a Division 1 program last year. They finished the year with an 18-15 record, and advanced to the second round of the CollegeInsiders.com postseason tournament. It was the first time that Eastern competed in a postseason tournament since 2001.

Despite losing some key players in guards Reggie Smith and Dylan Chatman and power forward Chris Olivier, the Panthers return a pair of All-OVC players in both the front and backcourt.

Senior Trae Anderson returns after a fine first season with the Panthers. The 6’5” forward averaged 13 points per game and shot 48.3 percent from the floor. In the postseason he was named to the OVC second team, and was also named to the All-Newcomer team.

Anderson was named a preseason All-OVC selection in the preseason.

“Some of the things that make him good is he carries his weight well and he is a big, strong guy,” Spoonhour said. “He is getting guys shots and has shot it enough to let everyone know he can shoot it.”

Meanwhile in the frontcourt, sophomore point guard Cornell Johnston returns, after a record-setting year in 2014-15.

Johnston set the school single season record in three point shooting percentage, knocking down 51.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He also set the single season record for assists with 156. He joined Anderson on the All-Newcomer team, and was also named a preseason All-OVC selection this year.

The 5’7” guard will have more responsibility this season Spoonhour said.

“It will be a harder year for him because people are going to pay attention to him,” Spoonhour said. “How he adjusts, will be the key.”

Other returning players include senior guard Luke Norman, junior guard Anthony Johnson, senior forward Luke Piotrowski and sophomore forward Justin Earls.

But the newest additions to the Panthers preseason hype, may be the first-year transfers and freshman.

Freshman Casey Teson gives the an option as an outside shooter. The 6’2” guard from St. Charles, Mo., shot 41.3 percent from three point range last year, leading his team to a state championship. A former opponent of his is now a teammate.

Freshman guard Marshawn Blackmon played for Fort Zumwalt South high school and was an all-state selection last year, and averaged 22 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Forwards Aleksa Novakovic, Patrick Muldoon, Lucas Jones and Aboubacar Diallo round out this year’s freshman class. Spoonhour said all of his freshman are in the mix for playing time.

“All of them are playing well enough. It’s whether they can limit mistakes and keep from fouling too much,” Spoonhour said. “If they can find a way to avoid giving away points, they are all talented enough to play.”

Junior transfers Demetrius McReynolds and A.J. Riley both have had a taste of college basketball postseason. Both players competed in the NJCAA tournament last year. McReynolds and his 15.6 points and 5.6 rebounds helped Eastern Florida State reach the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

Eastern also acquired an OVC transfer in the offseason. Senior forward Joe Kuligoski transferred from Jacksonville State, where he played for the last two years.

The team appears in better shape than at this point last year Spoonhour said.

“I enjoy going to practice every day and we have made more good basketball plays than we did at this point last year,” Spoonhour said. “We do some silly things, too, but we have a chance to be OK.”

Tipoff will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

 

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