Men’s basketball team opening season at home

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Just a year ago, a young and inexperienced Eastern men’s basketball was taking the floor, but this year the Panthers have nothing but experience starting when the Panthers take the floor Sunday against Eureka in Lantz Arena.

There were only four teams in the country that were playing a younger team than the Panthers and what happened to the Panthers early in the season was understandable, coach Jay Spoonhour said.

But as the season went along, Eastern started to put the pieces together and even relied on younger players to help carry the team to a conference tournament berth.

The Panthers still only have two seniors on the team this season, but four out of last year’s five starters are returning. Eastern only has one freshman on the team this year and brought in four juniors this season.

“I think with those guys coming back and having an understanding of what it takes to win and also knowing what makes you lose, I think that’s part of the reason we started winning,” Spoonhour said. “We stopped doing things that made us lose. Earlier in the season we were doing things that you just can’t do.”

This year with the four new juniors in forward Mussa Dama, guard DeVantae’ Price, wing Ray Crossland and guard Montell Goodwin and freshman guard Logan Koch, Spoonhour said the new guys are starting to pick up things quickly.

In past seasons, especially last year, junior point guard Cornell Johnston played heavy minutes and almost every minute of every game.

Spoonhour tried to get Johnston rest when he could, but that rest was sometimes under a minute.

“If we can get him down to where he is only playing 30 minutes a game, that will be a heck of a deal,” Spoonhour said. “He was tired a lot last year while he was playing.”

“His mistakes came when he was tired,” Spoonhour said. “When he would take a bad shot or turn the ball over, it was almost always because he was tired, and he didn’t turn it over much.”

Spoonhour said even though Johnston will be challenged for playing time, he is a guy the Panthers need on the floor.

Last year, the Panthers ran a lot of the offense through Trae Anderson, who the Panthers lost to graduation, and Anderson would drive the ball down to the basket for a score.

But this year is going to be a different style offense for the Panthers. It will be faster compared to last year.

Spoonhour said the Panthers will pressure more and guard more to use their speed to their advantage.

Anderson was also a team-leader for Eastern, and this year will get some leadership from Dama, who only started playing basketball his junior year of high school.

“He’s played less basketball than anyone (on the team), but his spirit is so good and his energy is so good that people gravitate toward because he is fun,” Spoonhour said. “He dunks it; he blocks shots.”

When the Panthers take the floor Sunday at 6 p.m. against Eureka, not everything will be perfect and it actually will not be about winning or losing for Eastern; it will be about seeing if the players can handle their job and figuring out what and who looks good together and getting everyone.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]