The second half between Eastern and Western Illinois men’s basketball on Saturday determined the outcome of the game, which the Leathernecks won 83-63. The Leathernecks shot 60 percent from the floor in the half, erasing a four-point Eastern halftime lead, in route to their fourth straight victory of the season.
The Panthers did improve on the boards Saturday, finishing with 30 rebounds while the Leathernecks had 36. Eastern had been outrebounded in its first two games, 51-17 and 43-32, and were facing a Western Illinois team that averaged 39.3 rebounds per game.
The Leathernecks shot 28-of-51 for a 54.9 percent average the entire game, and had two players record 20-plus points. Senior J.C. Fuller led with 29 points, while junior Garrett Covington followed with 26 points. They both shot 4-of-6 from three-point range, and the entire team was 9-of-16.
Eastern freshman forward Marshawn Blackmon said that the second half rally was a combination of great shooting by Western Illinois and bad defense by the Panthers.
“They hit a lot of tough shots in the end,” Blackmon said. “We just didn’t make enough buckets to keep up with them.”
Blackmon finished the game with eight points and three rebounds. He played 18 minutes, mostly for senior forward Trae Anderson, who was bothered by a lower back injury and foul trouble. Anderson tried to take a charge late in the first half, and landed hard on his back after the collision. He was called for blocking, which was his second foul.
He fouled out with over 10 minutes remaining in the second half, finishing with four points and a steal. Blackmon said that while the newer players gained experience without Anderson, it was still difficult without him.
“We rely on Trae, T and AJ Riley to just make all the plays and score,” Blackmon said. “With Trae out of the game that’s pretty hard.”
Eastern led 37-33 at halftime, but the Leathernecks opened the second half on a 9-2 run that would help them pull away for the victory. Freshman guard Casey Teson and sophomore guard Cornell Johnston added a pair of three pointers each in the first half to lead the Eastern offense.
Teson finished with 12 points to lead the Panthers, and Johnston finished with 11, and led Eastern with five assists. Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said that the first half might have been Eastern’s best half of the season.
“We competed and weren’t perfect by any means,” Spoonhour said. “We’ve worked together and the guys have been working on rebounding. We were trying to do better and we did.”
Spoonhour also said that the Panthers were aggressive on the boards, but that it can down to a few factors, namely it being their home opener.
“There’s a lot of desperation when you’re 0-2 and playing at home,” Spoonhour said. “It was the proper amount. Guys were going at it hard and trying.”
Eleven of Eastern’s 30 rebounds came off the offensive glass. Eastern is now 0-3 to start the season, but Saturday marked the first of a four-game home stand, which resumes next Saturday. Eastern will face Green Bay, who is also winless this season, but will play two more games before that matchup.
“Green Bay is good, they almost beat Stanford and Indiana State is good,” Spoonhour said. “They’re a little harder games than this bunch needs now, but if you want to play ball that’s the way you go.”
Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]