Eastern head coach Matt Bollant was not shy in saying he needed more production from his team’s veteran players in what was one of Eastern’s worse losses of the season Thursday at Lantz Arena.
All it took was a big third-quarter from Tennessee-Martin and suddenly its match with Eastern was a totally different ball game, in an effort where Eastern only got six points on 2-of-12 shooting from its three juniors on the team.
Bollant emphasized the importance of junior guard Carmen Tellez, who was 1-of-6 from the field, making open shots, and described junior Jalisha Smith as being out of control on the court.
“The people that come off the bench have to give us a lift,” Bollant said. “(Halle Stull) made a three in the first half, but to have (Tellez), (Stull) and (Smith), I won’t be too hard on (Lana Morov) because she only played four minutes, but to have those guys, three juniors, come in and give you next to nothing, is painful.”
In the first half of Thursday’s game Eastern trailed Tennessee-Martin 30-29 and forced the Skyhawks into 13 turnovers. Panther freshman Taylor Steele scored 13 of her game-high 19 points in the first half.
But the Skyhawks made it clear coming out of the locker room at half time that the game had changed, and turned their one-point halftime lead into a 72-44 blowout win.
Eastern coach Matt Bollant said his team is just not good enough to play as poorly as they did in the third quarter and expect to compete.
“Our margin of error is so small because we just don’t have the enough kids that can make shots, make plays,” Bollant said. “So if we don’t fight and play with great energy, then we are probably in for a long half, and that’s what happened in the second half.”
Forward Chelsey Perry scored 16 points and had 11 rebounds for the Skyhawks. Forward Ashton Feldhaus added 13 more on 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range.
Tennessee-Martin outscored Eastern 20-12 in the third quarter and shot 40 percent from the field to Eastern’s 27.8 percent.
What the Skyhawks did in the third quarter held true and then some into the fourth quarter, where Tennessee-Martin scored 22 points and held Eastern to just three points on 1-of-11 shooting.
Steele said once the team started missing shots to open the second half, it all went down from there.
“I think it is just when we can’t hit a shot, because our offense definitely sometimes fuels our defense, so when we are not hitting shots, then the defense drops off and then it hurts us,” Steele said.
The Skyhawks only forced one more turnover in the game than Eastern, 20-19, but capitalized on them much better, scoring 18 points off turnovers while the Panthers converted turnovers into just 8 points.
“We should have had (converting turnovers) more. We had a couple of chances, where we led turnovers and didn’t push the ball quite as well,” Bollant said. “But give (Tennessee-Martin) credit, they have got a lot of veteran players that know how to turn a turnover into a layup better than we do.”
The Panthers held up the pregame plan of shutting down the Skyhawks top scorer Kendall Spray, limiting her to just three shots in the first half and 3-of-14 shooting in the game.
All three of Spray’s makes were three-pointers, however, and the sophomore finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
If there was one thing Bollant was proud of his team for, it was shutting down Spray, who he described as one of the best three-point shooters in the country.
“I thought we did a great job (with Spray). I thought buzz really affected her. She doesn’t like the pressure,” Bollant said. “She missed one in the first half, but she really only got one good look in the first half.”
With the win, Tennessee-Martin improves its record to 8-11 overall and 4-3 in the OVC.
The loss drops Eastern to 2-16 overall and 1-6 in conference.
JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]