Panthers exceeded expectations

Mark Shanahan, Women's Basketball Reporter

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The expectations were exceeded this year, but the Eastern women’s basketball team will go a second straight year without an Ohio Valley Conference tournament appearance.

The Panther’s will travel to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville this Saturday for their final game of the season. Eastern has a record of 9-18 overall and 5-10 against the OVC. This is an obvious improvement from a team that won just three games last season with two of those coming against conference opponents.

This season the Panther’s had another young team and have been guided on offense by the two players with the most experience under head coach Debbie Black, junior Grace Lennox and  senior Erica Brown. Lennox is the teams leading scorer and averages the most minutes played on the team as well as in the conference. Brown is the only senior on the team this year and leads the conference in rebounding. Brown has worked her way into the Eastern record book in both career blocks and rebounds.

Although Eastern is out of contention for postseason play, they were a couple of close games away from being in the middle of the pack for the race for the conference title. The Panther’s have three conference losses by four points or less with all three of those games being on the road.

Eastern is 4-10 away from Lantz Arena this season, which was another improvement from last season that went winless on the road. The emergence of freshmen throughout the year gave the Panther’s their fair share of growing pains, but showed a lot of potential. Allison Van Dyke provided offense early in the year and has started every game along with Brown and Lennox. Jennifer Nehls earned 13 starts as a forward before battling injuries.

Freshman Zharia Lenoir has stepped into a starting role towards the end of the season and freshman Danielle Berry has not started a game this season, but has come off the bench in 24 games as a backup guard. Sophomore Brittin Boyer is another player who has earned a starting role towards the end of the season and has made her presence known.

Losing junior Jalisha Smith early in the season hurt the Panther’s with experience and also with scoring and rebounding. Smith started the first nine games and averaged 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Eastern has the eighth best scoring offense in the conference and the ninth best rebounding margin.

The Panther’s won an overtime thriller against Austin Peay last Saturday and will look to build on that momentum to wrap up their season. Eastern has forced four overtime games this season and is 3-1 when going to extra time.

The Panther’s last reached 10 wins in the 2014-15 season and the team earned a berth to the conference tournament.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]