Panthers still have hopes for playoff berth

Maher Kawash, Men's Basketball Reporter

It is that time of the college basketball season where teams determine their fate for any postseason action, and the Eastern men just kept their hopes alive.

Following the trend of their roller coaster season, the Panthers hosted first place Southeast Missouri in one of the most intense games of the year.

A few games ago, it seemed like Eastern was on the outside of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament looking in, but now they have moved up in the standings.

Heading into Saturday’s matchup with Southeast Missouri, the Panthers sat in 10th place in the conference standings; two spots back of a tournament berth.

But with the momentum shifting win and the help of a few losses around the league, Eastern is right in the mix for a top eight finish.

The Panthers are now tied for 9th in the conference with Austin Peay at eight losses on the year, and are just a game back of 6-7 Tennessee State for the No. 8 spot.

Winning out remains the goal for this team and even then the Panthers may not get in, but what is for sure is the importance of their upcoming schedule.

As teams continue to knock each other down throughout the conference, Eastern needs to remain focused on the task at hand with its final three games of the regular season on the road.

The Panthers get their first shot to break the tie in the standings with a matchup against Austin Peay looming.

After facing off against the Governors Thursday, the Panthers have arguably their biggest game of the year against rival Murray State before facing last-place Southern Illinois Edwardsville to end the regular season.

It has to remain as a game-by-game focus rather than any type of looking ahead despite a current two game winning streak standing for Eastern.

A little bode of confidence can be found in the league’s recent tournament history though.

About a year ago, Austin Peay was a team much-like this Panther team and had a favorable ending to their season.

The Governors were a team that endured many highs and lows through the regular season, but snuck into the OVC tournament with an underwhelming 7-9 record.

That led to a tournament title and an NCAA tournament automatic berth.

The Governors were instantly knocked out of the tournament by the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks, but a tournament berth was still the story of that season. The No. 8 seed making it’s way to “March Madness.”

It was an Austin Peay team that showed spurts of physicality and athleticism that proved to just be too much for opponents, and the Panthers offer that same kind of presence.

Eastern’s last two wins have been its best of the season, and have come as a well-rounded effort that many thought would be seen more often.

The Panthers have a couple more pieces of the puzzle to put together and it may just happen.

But regardless of a rollercoaster regular season, the Panthers are on the verge of sneaking into this postseason tournament and if they do, the rest of the conference could be in trouble.

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