Men’s basketball team heads to Illinois-Chicago

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Men’s basketball team heads to Illinois-Chicago

Junior guard Montell Goodwin drives toward the basket against a Bradley defender Tuesday in Lantz Arena. Goodwin finished with six points and seven assists in the 87-83 loss.

Junior guard Montell Goodwin drives toward the basket against a Bradley defender Tuesday in Lantz Arena. Goodwin finished with six points and seven assists in the 87-83 loss.

Justin Brown

Junior guard Montell Goodwin drives toward the basket against a Bradley defender Tuesday in Lantz Arena. Goodwin finished with six points and seven assists in the 87-83 loss.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown

Junior guard Montell Goodwin drives toward the basket against a Bradley defender Tuesday in Lantz Arena. Goodwin finished with six points and seven assists in the 87-83 loss.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Even though the Panthers lost Tuesday’s game to Bradley in overtime, it was not the matter of the Eastern men’s basketball team playing poorly, the Panthers just ran into a tough team, and when Eastern did make a mistake, the Braves took advantage.

The Panthers have been gaining more and more chemistry as the season has gone on, adjusting to the new style of play they can utilize, and they will have a chance to get back in the win column Sunday at Illinois-Chicago.

Senior Demetrius McReynolds did all he could in the Panthers’ loss Tuesday, scoring 25 points, with juniors Muusa Dama and Ray Crossland scoring 12 and 19 points, respectively.

What Eastern has been able to do well this year is play tough defense and force turnovers. But coach Jay Spoonhour has continued to say forcing turnovers is not enough.

Yes, that is where it starts, but if Eastern cannot remain sound when it gets the ball back, it does not matter. And that was where the Panthers fell off a bit Friday.

Junior guard Cornell Johnston said when Eastern forced the 24 turnovers it did against Bradley, the team would try to get too many shots off early in the shot clock, that were forced shots, and did not let the plays come to them.

Illinois-Chicago and Eastern share the same record of 4-3, and the Flames are fresh off a 72-58 win over Chicago State.

The Panthers can expect to see a lot of sophomore forward Dikembe Dixson on Sunday. The forward has played 223 minutes in seven games this year and has 171 points, which is more than double anyone else on the team.

He averages 24.4 points a game, and Eastern’s strong-willed, turnover-forcing defense will have to show up to try and shut down Dixson. The offense has run through him during the first seven games, and a vast majority of assists are coming from Godwin Boahen and Tarkus Ferguson, who have a combined 39 out of 92.

Eastern plays fast, and Illinois-Chicago’s defense stepped up big in its last game against Chicago State, allowing just 24 points in the second half. That domination on defense started with over five minutes left in the first half.

Chicago State could not connect on a single field goal in the last 5:07 of the first half, and the Flames took advantage of that and doubled their 8-point lead by the end of the game.

A place where Eastern has struggled, Illinois-Chicago has found success: shooting from beyond the arc.

The way McReynolds started Tuesday’s game shooting 3-pointers, it seemed like the 3-point woes were over, but Eastern still shot 7-28 from beyond the arc.

In the Flames’ last game, they had six players connect from there.

Even though the 3-point shot is not there, it is not the game the Panthers are dead set on focusing on.

Casey Teson is one of the Panthers’ stronger 3-point shooters, shooting 38 percent in his freshman season, and he has said this year Eastern does not only look for 3’s but will take it if it is there.

Tip off is set for 3 p.m. in Chicago.

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