With four more games until conference play, three of those being on the road, the Eastern women’s basketball team must end the three game skid they are on Wednesday at home against Cleveland State.
The Panthers lost two tough road games against Illinois State and Valparaiso. Those two games went completely different. Against Illinois State, Eastern jumped out to an early 16-9 lead after the first quarter and then let Illinois State get back into the game before getting outscored 24-11 in the fourth quarter to lose by double-digits.
When the Panthers traveled to Valparaiso, they found themselves down 17-5 after the first quarter. The fought back in the second quarter to make it a game at halftime, but let Valparaiso pull away in the third quarter so much that a 27-point fourth quarter still resulted in a five point loss.
Consistency is something that is much needed for this team when they host their last non-conference home game Wednesday before going back on the road for three more. They host Ohio Valley Conference opponent Belmont on Dec. 29.
A big problem for the Panthers has been the offense going cold for long stretches during games. Eastern went 1-for-12 in the second quarter against Illinois State that made them give up the lead at one point before eventually tying it at halftime.
A similar offensive drought came next game against Valparaiso when Eastern went scoreless for six minutes in the third quarter that helped Valparaiso extend its lead to 18 points.
There are positives to takeaway from this team through the first nine games. The Panthers are already at four wins, which is one more than they won all of last season. Senior Erica Brown recorded Eastern’s first triple-double since 2010 on Dec. 1 against Illinois State.
Eastern coach Debbie Black has been able to go to her bench this season, which was not the case last year. Eight of the 11 players on the roster have played in all nine games this season. Reliable junior guard Grace Lennox has averaged 35 minutes of playing time this season while leading the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game.
Freshman Allison Van Dyke has been a starter for the whole season and is averaging 11.7 per game along with 4.9 rebounds. Another freshman Jennifer Nehls has cracked the starting lineup the past five games after sophomore Carmen Tellez was a starter for the first four games.
Freshmen Danielle Berry and Zharia Lenoir have each been key players off of the bench for the Panthers. Lenoir is coming off of a season high 11 points on Saturday against Valparaiso with eight of those points coming in the 27 point fourth quarter.
Berry does not have a stat sheet that would wow you at this point in the season, but she has taken up valuable minutes at the guard position when Lennox or somebody else has needed a breather. Any minutes played by a freshman in their first season will be valuable to this team moving forward.
With the conference schedule coming up fast, look for the Panthers to pick up some chemistry with their young team and make some noise in the OVC where they were predicted to finish last.
Mark Shanahan can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]