Column: Depth proving to be the difference for Eastern basketball team

Maher Kawash, Basketball Reporter


Junior guard Montell Goodwin defends Bradley's Jayden Hodgson during the Panthers' 87-83 overtime loss in Lantz Arena.
Justin Brown
Junior guard Montell Goodwin defends Bradley’s Jayden Hodgson during the Panthers’ 87-83 overtime loss in Lantz Arena.

The Eastern men’s basketball team notched another victory Sunday evening, and it was the depth proving to be a critical part of any success to come for the Panthers this season.

The Panthers got into some foul trouble against the University of Illinois at Chicago, but Aboubacar Diallo and the rest of Eastern’s bench was able to fill in to lead to the 90-76 victory.

The depth and bench play of the team is a new look for Eastern and fits perfectly into coach Jay Spoonhour’s style of play.

Last year, Spoonhour preached that everyone on the team will get a chance to help and provide a certain role.

But the Panthers fell short in a short-lived Ohio Valley Conference tournament run because there just was not enough there.

This year seems completely different, and Diallo is a prime example of that as he fought his way around the paint to grab 14 rebounds off the bench for Eastern.

His development since last season, along with the returning experience and added athleticism, makes the depth of the Panthers a force to be reckoned with.

As usual leaders Muusa Dama and Pat Muldoon were forced into foul trouble, it was Diallo’s presence that changed the game along with Ray Crossland’s versatile efforts off the bench.

Not only did that feat lead the Panthers to victory Sunday, but it sets up a clear path of what could be for the team this season.

As the non-conference slate begins to wind down, the focus turns to a highly touted conference schedule coming up for Eastern.

With high expectations to improve off a year ago, it will be imperative for guys such as Diallo and Crossland to provide that special spark off the bench.

The depth is also opening up space on both sides of the ball as Eastern just continues to put up high scoring numbers to start the season.

Sunday was Eastern’s second 90-point performance in its first eight games, as well as the sixth time the Panthers have scored more than 70 in a game.

The bench’s versatility combined with the starters not having to rely on one source to produce could result in more wins down the stretch.

Eastern was projected to finish third in its division this season, but this talent off the bench can only help exceed those projections.

Another great example is the reduced role of star guard Cornell Johnston.

He does not have to be the guy who does it all anymore, but he is now able to run the Panthers’ offense in simpler fashion.

Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]