Eastern opens season on road at Nebraska

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

Everything is new for half of the Eastern men’s basketball team. Getting everyone on the same page and having constant effort from the team has been the focus for the Panthers heading into Nebraska for their season opener Saturday.

The Panthers have a strong core of seniors, but right now it is about having them and the new guys mesh.

“When things are new, and it is for half of our guys, it is hard to play hard and think hard at the same time,” coach Jay Spoonhour said. “The new guys are grappling with that and we need the returning guys to pick the new guys up.”

One of the small problems Eastern has had is that some of the returning guys are making the same mistakes the younger guys are making.

Spoonhour said they have been pressing on the basic things.

“You’ve got to get good shots every time, you have to run back on defense,” Spoonhour said. “Basic stuff wins.”

The new players Eastern brought in such as D’Angelo Jackson and Jajuan Starks have already made impacts for the Panthers. The two have started to patch the hole Eastern had open last year in driving to the basket and drawing fouls.

And to make things tougher, the Panthers are going up against one of the biggest teams they will face all year. Nebraska has six players over 6-feet-8.

While driving to the basket and drawing fouls has been a focal point for the Panthers, it is not something set in stone for Eastern to go into the game planning to do.

“Nebraska is huge,” Spoonhour said. “Just enormous guys, so if you are a guy like D’Angleo and Jajuan and you’re taking the ball to the basket, you’re going to run into (tall) guys. They’ve got to work to get good shots.”

Nebraska finished 6-12 last season in Big Ten matchups and 12-19 overall. The Corn Huskers had a few tough stretches last season that contributed to its losses. They came in large chunks, which consisted of losing eight out of their last 10 games, including their Big Ten Tournament loss.

Nebraska returns its second-leading scorer Glynn Watson Jr. this season. He averaged 13 points a game behind graduate Tai Webster, who averaged 17 points.

For Eastern, what this game is about is further gelling the new guys with the returners. Spoonhour said he likes what he has seen so far.

“We’re still trying to iron out what we do,” he said. “We want to go there and play absolutely as well as we can, but if it doesn’t go well, these are still pre-conference games and you still have a game Wednesday and you have to be ready to get it  done.”

Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Nebraska.

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