Panthers miss out on OVC Tournament


Venkata Poosapati

Junior guard Terrell Lewis passes to an open teammate Saturday, Jan. 28 at Lantz Arena. The Panthers defeated the visiting Cougars 75-60.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

With three games remaining in the season and even at one game back of Tennessee State at the No. 8 spot for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, the Eastern men’s basketball team chance for the tournament seemed very possible.

But things did not go Eastern’s way and it resulted in them missing the OVC Tournament.

Tennessee State was set to play the two top teams in the OVC in its final three games and Eastern was set to play the Governors of Austin Peay, who were behind the Panthers in the standings.

Eastern played Austin Peay Thursday and lost 85-80, despite hitting 17 3-pointers, tying a school record.

Tennessee State played Morehead State, the current No. 2 seed and somehow found a way to win. And the Panthers’ 19-point lead midway through the first half still was not enough.

“Our defense in the second half kind of let upand we ended up giving them a 50 point half and on the road you can’t let that happen if (you) are expecting a road win,” sophomore Casey Teson said.

With Eastern’s loss to Austin Peay and Tennessee State’s win over Morehead State, a trip to the OVC Tournament was still possible; Eastern would have to win its two remaining games and the Tigers and Austin Peay would both have to lose out.

The Panthers needed to beat Murray State on Saturday and they did, keeping their tournament hopes alive for the time being. However, Eastern Kentucky could not help out the Panthers by handing Tennessee State a loss; this ended the Panthers’ season.

Everything was there for the Panthers’ taking. The team they were chasing in the standings had to play two of the best teams and Eastern, on a two-game winning streak and two winnable games of their remaining three.

The Panthers just could not find their way past Austin Peay and that loss put them in an even worse position.

A win against Murray State was huge. It was only the third time Eastern beat the Racers on their home court. The Panthers hit 15 3-pointers this time around, which throughout the season was a hit or miss stat.

Eastern beat the Racers handedly 82-65, but the hot shooting, against Austin Peay was not enough, and against the Racers was too little too late.
Closing out their final two games at home, it was like the basketball gods wanted the Panthers in the tournament. Eastern got revenge on tournament-bound Tennessee-Martin, and had junior Muusa Dama go off in overtime against Southeast Missouri to win the final home game. But in the end, it just was not meant to be.

Even with them doing so much good on the race to the finish line, being the OVC Tournament it just was not enough.

“We had some games that we really should have won,” Teson said. “But down the road we just shot ourself in the foot and we did the one too many times.”

Teson’s six 3-pointers against Austin Peay, a 19-point lead against Austin Peay, a win against Murray State on the road. On most nights any of this could be good enough to get wins and roll into the OVC tournament.

Eastern was a regular in the OVC Tournaments. This is the first time the Panthers will not be playing since 2011-2012 season, and also the first time under the coaching of Jay Spoonhour.

Eastern will finish off its season Saturday at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, and that will be the official end of the season.

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