Men’s basketball faces ranked Indiana team

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Men’s basketball faces ranked Indiana team

Sophomore guard Cornell Johnston goes up to the basket 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.

Sophomore guard Cornell Johnston goes up to the basket 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.

Jason Howell

Sophomore guard Cornell Johnston goes up to the basket 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.

Jason Howell

Jason Howell

Sophomore guard Cornell Johnston goes up to the basket 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.

Blake Nash, Assistant Sports Editor

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The games have officially begun for the Eastern men’s basketball team. The Panthers, who defeated St. Francis, 74-71, in an exhibition game last week, will play two games in four days in Indiana.

This Friday the team faces the only team on their schedule that was ranked during the preseason, the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers come into this season ranked No. 15, after making it to the NCAA tournament last year, where they were defeated by Wichita State.

Eastern last played the Hoosiers in the 1992 NCAA tournament and lost, 94-55.

A recruiting class and the return of All-Big Ten guard Yogi Ferrell has made the Hoosiers one of the Big Ten’s favorites this year. It is not just the Big Ten that’s talking about the Hoosiers either, Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said.

“ESPN or CBS came out and ranked the Top 100 players in the country, and Indiana’s got four players in the Top 60,” Spoonhour said. “In terms of offense they’re one of the best. If there’s anybody better than them it’s a short line.”

But the Panthers have also gotten the Ohio Valley Conference’s attention. Eastern was predicted to finish third in the OVC West division, a year after they were predicted to finish seventh in the eight-team division. Eastern made its first postseason appearance in 14 years last year and added a few freshmen in the offseason.

Freshmen Casey Teson and Marshawn Blackmon are just two of the nine new faces on the Eastern roster, which returns All-OVC players Cornell Johnston and Trae Anderson. Teson and Blackmon earned all-state honors in Missouri last season and said that the Panthers’ up-tempo offense helps them play loose.

“We get up and down a lot, and I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Blackmon said. “We like playing fast tempo games.”

Teson added he likes that Spoonhour lets him and his teammates play the game, rather than base the game plan entirely on strategy.

“He doesn’t really have a bunch of set plays,” Teson said. “He kind of lets our own players create for others.”

Eastern last faced a ranked team last November, when they traveled to Omaha for a game with No. 23 ranked Creighton. The Panthers have never beaten a ranked opponent, but Spoonhour said the excitement of playing the first game of the season eases the tension of playing one of the top teams in the country.

“Guys like playing in those games,” Spoonhour said. “Every team in the country is excited for their first game. It’s not a bad way to start the year, to play in that environment.”

Eastern will also face Ball State on Monday night, to round out their “Hoosier State” road trip.

Now that the season is underway, Spoonhour said it is time for the Panthers to focus on their opponents, more than themselves. With a roster full of fresh faces, the Panthers hope to progress as the season goes on.

“The first part of the year you’re just trying to get your team’s habits down. You still won’t have them down,” Spoonhour said. “Teams improve quite a bit as the year goes on.”

The Panthers will also focus on the Ball State game, as well as Indiana, so that they can kill two birds with one stone, Spoonhour said.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. on Friday.

 

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