Panthers face winless Marshall Wednesday

Blake Nash, Assistant Sports Editor

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It’s already tournament time for the Eastern men’s basketball team. But Wednesday’s matchup with winless Marshall will be the first round of the Global Sports Classic tournament, which will end in Las Vegas on December 22nd.

The Panthers are coming off a 2-2 home stand, but earned victories over Indiana State and Northern Kentucky in the final two games, to improve their record to 2-4. Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said that winning those last few games was important to Eastern, which will be on the road for five of its next six games.

“It’s hard to keep guys together for stuff like that,” Spoonhour said. “Winning the last two was huge because you don’t want to go on the road looking for a must win.”

All Ohio Valley Conference players Cornell Johnston and Trae Anderson had arguably their best games in Saturday’s overtime victory over Northern Kentucky. Johnston finished with a career-high 24 points, including 10 in overtime, leading the Panthers to a 79-73 victory. He also had seven assists.

Anderson recorded 19 points, just one off from his season high. But he added 12 rebounds for a double-double, his first of the season and the first time he had grabbed double-digit boards. Spoonhour said that Anderson has been filling a different role this year. Anderson has not had to be a go-to player before, but has now been forced into that role, since coming in this year as Eastern’s leading scorer.

“It’s a whole different thing for him,” Spoonhour said. “In high school it wasn’t like he was the man, he’s changed as a player. It’s a new thing for everyone one of his (Anderson’s) mistakes to be magnified.”

Like Anderson, Johnston has also come into this season as one of the Panthers’ leaders. As a freshman he was named OVC newcomer of the year and came into this season as a preseason all-conference selection.

That experience and the addition of nine new players to the Eastern program has thrust him into a leadership position. That was evident on Saturday when he said he urged the Panthers to give him their max effort in the latter stages of the game.

Johnston said that Eastern is beginning to add improvement to its team chemistry, and feels that he, himself, is now playing like he needs to.

“I feel like I’m locked in just about as well as everybody else,” Johnston said. We’re beginning to get into the gym more and knowing our personnel Everybody knows we’ve got to play well as a team if we want to jell come tournament time.”

Seeing that it’s unlikely the Panthers won’t be playing for at-large NCAA Tournament bid, Spoonhour said they need to focus on their performance when it’s time for OVC play. At this point he just wants Eastern to keep improving on recent performances.

“We can do better than what we’re doing, just got to keep getting better. Record is inconsequential at this point,” Spoonhour said. “It’ll start getting important when we get to January.”

Marshall is 0-6 thus far, and have a non-conference schedule that features three matchups with OVC teams. Morehead State defeated the Thundering Herd 85-61 last month. Marshall will host Eastern Kentucky Saturday for its final matchup with an OVC opponent.

Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington, WV.

 

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