Eastern, Illinois playing for Hurricane relief

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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The University of Illinois is just 50 miles from Eastern and for the first time in the basketball team’s history, it will be playing in Lantz Arena.

The NCAA granted teams one extra exhibition game if the proceeds go toward hurricane relief and it was Illinois that made Friday night’s game happen. Teams are allowed to play for hurricane relief only and if they do not miss any classes.

“It was all (Illinois’) doing,” men’s basketball coach Jay Spoonhour said. “They called last Tuesday night (Oct. 24) and we just had to throw it together real fast. They were wanting to get a game on the road.”

Spoonhour said he is really appreciative of everyone on the Illinois’ staff, calling it a “heck of a deal.”

The Panthers and the Fighting Illini square off Friday night following the conclusion of the women’s game against Indiana State, which is also being played for hurricane relief.

The Eastern men’s team tried to get hurricane relief games with four other Illinois schools, but were unable to get a date that worked for both sides.

Landing the game with Illinois and Illinois being the leader of getting this game to happen, benefits everyone, Spoonhour said.

The Illinois game will give Eastern a look at what a Big 10 team is like before the team opens its regular season on the road against Nebraska.

Raising money for hurricane relief also adds to the significance of the game.

“You want to have a good dollar amount,” Spoonhour said. “You think about how much it could help. It’s $10 a ticket, so you can help some families. I don’t know if there is a drawback to (this game), I truly don’t. Everything that comes out of this is a good thing. It helps (Illinois) get a road game, it helps us get a look at where we are. We think we have a good team, but you don’t know. This will give us a good indication right off the bat.”

Men’s assistant coach Rob Holloway’s brother was in Texas when the hurricane came through, but was able to get out before it hit.

His home was not damaged by the disaster, he said. But his brother did spend over a week in Chicago waiting out the storm.

Eastern and Illinois had just over a week to get the game set up. Both schools had to sign waivers and send a letter to the NCAA while agreeing to show that they have a system for getting the money to the charity.

For Eastern, this will draw in the largest crowd Lantz Arena has seen since Jan. 22, 2014 when Eastern hosted Murray State. Lantz was filled to the top with almost too many people inside.

Terrell Lewis is the only current Panther on the roster who played in that game and in front of that Lantz Arena mob scene, so it will be new experience for the rest of the team.

Senior Muusa Dama was on last year’s team that played on the road at Missouri, where the Panthers won and he is excited for Friday’s game.

“Regardless of the outcome, you learn from mistakes and you even do in the games you win,” Dama said. “Playing that big of a team should get our intensity level up.”

The two teams playing the game on the court garners the most attention and coverage, but Spoonhour praised the behind-the-scenes work of Eastern staff members.

“All the folks in the background that people may not know like Sandy King, Mark Bonnstetter, those folks, they’re the ones doing all the work. They don’t have a staff of 30 people. They’re doing it, this is a ton of work for them and it’s appreciated by all of us,” Spoonhour said.

Tipoff is set for 7:30 Friday night.

A limited amount of students are going to be let in using their Panther Cards. Otherwise, tickets are $10 and Eastern expects the game to be sold out by Tuesday.

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