The Eastern men’s basketball team wrapped up exhibition play Monday night against Division-II Southern Indiana, but a complete game from one side made the difference.
Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour knew what was coming after an upset win against Illinois, as he predicted Southern Indiana would give his team fits Monday night.
The Screaming Eagles did just that as they out hustled the Panthers for a majority of the game, and a crucial factor in that was the early loss of Muusa Dama in the first half.
Eastern made a late surge in the game to show they have the grit to not give up in games like this, but a rough start early on proved to be a factor in the 95-92 Eastern loss.
While Southern Indiana started the game 8-10 from the three-point line, Dama became a victim of early foul trouble.
The 6-foot-9 center earned his second foul on an over-the-back call when trying to snag a rebound over the defender with a little over 12 minutes left in the first half.
Dama may have struggled in this one but Spoonhour said this is what these games are for.
“It’s okay, he’s all right because this is a deal where we got some guys I wanted to get in there,” Spoonhour said. “It’s a good lesson.”
The jump shots just kept falling for the Screaming Eagles, but Eastern did bring it together near the end of the half.
The Panthers brought it within three in the final minute of the first, as D’Angelo Jackson and JuJuan Starks took over the offense by posing as big men with how they maneuvered around the paint.
In the meantime, Dama stayed on the bench with two fouls as Lucas Jones had to be the next man up, but was held to just one three-pointer.
Part of the reason for the struggles could also be credited to the size of Southern Indiana as they certainly did not appear to play like an ordinary D-II team.
When Dama was back on the court not only did he have to play conservatively because of foul trouble, but he was opposed by another 6-foot-9 forward in Julius Rajala.
Rajala and company limited Dama’s ability to back anyone down in the post, as all he was left to do is settle for some off-balance turnaround floaters.
The end result? Eight points on 33 percent shooting from the talented Eastern big man.
Just as the Panthers outworked Big Ten opponent Illinois, the Screaming Eagles brought that same presence to Lantz Arena Monday night.
And while the offense ran smoothly because of the balance against Illinois, the Panthers could not find that jumper to fall as they shot 37 percent from deep.
But as the struggles came for the Illini Friday night, the fact that this is an exhibition game still serves Eastern just the same.
On the other hand, the Panthers showed much more energy to end the game than Illinois did and showed the ability to rely on others when a main guy such as Dama is forced to sit.
And in the end, Eastern is still 0-0.
Ahead of these exhibition games, Spoonhour has consistently said this would be a tough test for his team, but their record still follows with zero wins or losses.
That is a good mindset to maintain, as this can be seen as a great experience for a team that has some more tests ahead this season.
This group has shown its grit and talent within the two exhibition games and is now dealt the task of an even tougher non-conference schedule where the games actually count.
That opens with a road test against another Big Ten team in Nebraska Saturday.
“This what I expected could happen and now your season starts for real, and you want to go play as well as you can against Nebraska,” Spoonhour said.
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]