Eastern eyeing tough November schedule

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Eastern men’s basketball coach Jay Spoonhour scheduled an exhibition game against Southern Indiana so the Panthers had a tough game before its non-conference schedule.

A game against Division II Southern Indiana, to anyone not around the game, is a cakewalk. Eastern just knocked off Big Ten Illinois, making a game against Southern Indiana a sure win. Monday night was anything but that.

With the way the Screaming Eagles played Monday against Eastern, they could have taken down the Illini as well.

Luckily for the Panthers they played two tough exhibition games before the games start to count, experiencing a highest of highs and a low.

Spoonhour said that no matter what happens, the Panthers have to learn from it.

“This is what the exhibitions are for. Now you add that other one on (Illinois game), now you have two crazy situations. This is exactly what we wanted and this is what I expected could happen,” Spoonhour said Monday after the loss to Southern Indiana.

The Panthers learned two big things in its exhibition matchups. The first being that when they play smart, get back on defense and get in the passing lanes, they will win like they did against Illinois.

The Panthers forced just eight turnovers Monday, but forced 19 against Illinois. That charge was led by senior Montell Goodwin, who had four and Spoonhour noted that was a senior making plays one should.

And no matter how much offensive firepower they have, it will not be enough if they make too many simple mistakes on defense.

“In a 48-hour stretch, maybe more than that, that’s a whole lot of stuff to deal with,” Spoonhour said. “You probably won’t deal with a bigger swing during the year, but you might.”

As much as Panther fans and the team would have liked the win against the Illini to count, it does not, but their season-opening game Friday against Big Ten Nebraska does count.

“Now your season starts for real and you want to go and play as well as you can against Nebraska,” he said. “That’s going to be a huge task to stay in the game with them.”

Eastern’s tough list of games continues throughout November. It will see San Diego State Nov. 20 on the road. San Diego State has been in the NCAA Tournament 11 times in history, with the last being in 2015.

Just seven days after that, Eastern plays at Marquette, which has been to the tournament 31 times and has three Final Fours and one Championship.

The Golden Eagles were in the tournament last season. The were blown out in the first round by Baylor 91-73, but without question offers another test for Eastern.

“You have some important games,” Spoonhour said. “This month of (November), put it on the calendar, see home many hard games. This month of November is a killer.”

“When things go poorly on the court, we all just have to be able to cut the string and move on to the next play and do a better job of doing that stuff and it will happen,” Spoonhour said.

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