Cleveland State beats Panthers 77-69


Sean Hastings

Eastern freshman Taylor Steele guards a Northern Illinois player in the Panthers’ 93-64 loss to the Huskies Nov. 10 at Lantz Arena. Steele had nine points off the bench for the Panthers Tuesday night in the teams 77-69 loss to Cleveland State.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

The one thing the Eastern women’s basketball team had in mind coming into its match with Cleveland State Tuesday night was to play better on offense than they did in its weekend loss against Delaware.

The Panthers did just that, improving significantly from their last game, in a game coach Matt Bollant said was a “step in the right direction.” However, while they saw a marked improvement in execution, they were handed the same result and suffered their fifth loss of the season to Cleveland State 77-69.

A season high 24 points from Eastern point guard Grace Lennox was not enough for the Panthers, as five Cleveland State players scored in double-digits, led by Ashanti Abshaw with 20.

Cleveland State’s versatile scoring duo in Abshaw and senior guard Khayla Livingston seemed to be involved in the play one way or another every time momentum swung back in favor of Cleveland State.

Late in the fourth quarter when Eastern trimmed the Vikings’ lead that had been as large as 12 in the quarter down to six points, it was Abshaw with 1:14 to play that made a three-point basket to giver her team a nine-point lead.

Abshaw was a player Eastern knew could be a big-time game changer for Cleveland State, and she proved it, scoring her 20 points in just 21 minutes on the court.

“She is just a really good player. She had a big three on top late in the game that really put it away for them,” Bollant said of Abshaw. “She can do everything, and we did a decent job of attacking her and making her play defense. But yeah, she can play. We lost her a couple of times in the zone and let her get by a couple of times, but she does a lot of good things.”

Livingston would make four key free throws, including the last two of the game, in the final two minutes to add to her 12 total points in the game, putting the game out of reach for Eastern.

Both teams could rest easy throughout the game when their starters came off the floor as Eastern and Cleveland State had big games from their reserves.

Freshman Taylor Steele had nine points off the bench on 3-of-5 shooting from three- point range, and forward Jalisha Smith added nine points and four rebounds for the Panthers. Bollant said the play of the bench was “huge” for the team.

“I thought Taylor (Steele) really made some big shots in the fourth quarter and just today had her best game of the year for sure. She played with a lot of poise and both of those guys (Steele and Smith) gave us a big lift off the bench for sure,” he said.

Off the bench for the Vikings, guard Mariah Miller had 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

Eastern shot 46.7 percent from the field, a 28 percent difference from the 18 percent they shot against Delaware. While the Panthers did not come away with the win they wanted, the refined offensive game is something they can hang their hat on.

“It was definitely a step in the right direction. Our approach was way better, our belief in ourselves was there,” Bollant said. “I thought Grace Lennox played her best game of the year and Jalisha Smith played probably her best game of the year, Taylor Steele really had a great approach and did some good things.”

The team’s improvement on offense manifested itself in Lennox’s 24-point performance. Against Delaware, Lennox scored 16 points on a 4-of-17 shooting performance that left much to be desired.

“ (Lennox) has to play well for us. She is our leader, she is our best player and she played with a ton of energy tonight,” Bollant said. “She had five steals and five assists and did a little bit of everything for us.”

JJ Bullock can be reached at581-2812 or [email protected]