Panthers recognize need to close out games better


File Photo | The Daily Eastern News

Junior Jajuan Starks goes up for the dunk in Eastern’s win over Illinois Nov. 3 in Lantz Arena. Starks is the Panthers’ leading scorer and said they need to get better at closing out games.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor


From the outside looking in, a 2-4 record does not look good, but diving deeper into those four losses tells a different story.

Eastern has one loss to Nebraska, which came as the Panthers were unable to score down low and one loss to Marquette, which was again because the Panthers could not hold off the Golden Eagles long enough.

In two of the toughest games that Eastern will play all season, it was with those teams until the final second.

However, those two games, even though they were losses, have the Panthers feeling good with how they can match up with any team that comes across their path.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” junior transfer Michael Chavers said. “We know the things that we need to get done. Just closing out games, minimizing our mistakes like turnovers.”

Eastern plays Bradley on the road Friday, and last year Eastern let a three-point lead slip in the final 2:46 of the game and ended up losing in overtime 87-83.

Aside from Eastern having to focus on holding its lead up until the final buzzer, Bradley rebounds and rebounds a lot.

Bradley out-rebounded 53-30 in last year’s matchup.

“We know they crash the glass really hard,” junior transfer Jajuan Starks said. “I heard they won the game off offensive rebounds.”

Both Chavers and Starks have made quick impacts on the Panthers in just their first six games playing at the Division I level.

Starks leads the team in scoring and rebounds averaging 16.8 and 6.3 per game, respectively.

“I’m loving it here at Eastern,” Starks said.

Chavers said it has taken some time for everything to get clicking for them as newcomers, but feels comfortable where they are at now.

And Eastern has a tough test with Bradley Friday.

The Braves are 6-1 and have a 68-53 win over Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis. The Panthers squeaked by with an 80-79 win.

Once again, that game went down to the wire, but Eastern was able to make a few extra shots down the stretch to hang on to the win.

Senior guard Terrell Lewis hit two free throws to give Eastern its 80-79 lead with just six seconds left in the game.

Bradley averages 67.9 points per game with three players averaging double digit scoring nights.

Darrell Brown is the leading scorer for Bradley with 13.1 points per game.

But going back to what Starks said about Bradley “crashing the glass,” Bradley holds true to that statement.

It has two players with over 50 and 51 rebounds this season. Thomas Donte is the second leading scorer for the Braves and has 50 rebounds, and Elijah Childs leads the team with 51 rebounds this season.

The next highest rebounder is at 38, which is Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye.

Starks leads the Panthers with 38 rebounds. And that is not to say they are a bad rebounding team. They out rebound their opponents on average.

Both Starks and Chavers said limiting the bad mistakes will help them be able to close out games better.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Peoria.

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