Foul trouble hurts Panthers in loss


JJ Bullock

Senior Muusa Dama goes up for a right-hand hook in the Panthers’ 86-74 loss to Southeast Missouri Jan. 20 in Lantz Arena. Eastern lost to Belmont 81-59 Thursday on the road.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

The Eastern men’s basketball team’s plan to stop Belmont Thursday was to make the three-pointers the Bruins shot “as hard as possible.”

Maybe it made it slightly harder, as the Bruins sank 10-of-28, after hitting 13 the last time the two teams played each other, but Belmont still came away with an 81-59 win over the Panthers.

But the difference in this game was Belmont was able to get to the rim, coach Jay Spoonhour said.

Both of Eastern’s big men, senior Muusa Dama and junior Aboubacar Diallo, played in foul trouble for most of the game. Both players had three in the first half alone.

“That changes everything you’re doing,” Spoonhour said. “They’re the guys that can protect the rim and block shots and we had to play without them 8-to-10 minutes.”

Belmont’s Dylan Windler took advantage of the Panthers lacking their shot blockers in the game, scoring 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He also brought down seven of Belmont’s 33 rebounds.

“Windler got to the rim,” Spoonhour said. “They laid it in way more after (Dama and Diallo) went out. Belmont did a good job of forcing them to foul on their own. They put pressure on us at the rim.”

The Panthers shot 46.2 percent in the game, but fell so far into a hole in the first half that a comeback was going to take a lot of scoring. The Bruins had a 51-28 lead at the end of the first half, and while the Panthers outscored Belmont 31-30 in the second half, the deficit heading in was too much.

Eastern also had 17 turnovers in the game to Belmont’s 11 and Belmont’s 25 points off those turnovers to Eastern’s four did not help the Panthers.

Spoonhour said the reason for the turnovers was the Panthers trying to make plays that were not there.

“The ball moved in the second half, but it did not move in the first half,” Spoonhour said. “We have too many guys driving into areas where there wasn’t anywhere to drive it. They’re just trying to create things and Belmont did a good job closing in on them.”

Freshman Mack Smith continued to shine off his Freshman Player of the Week honor he picked up last week, scoring 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting in Eastern’s loss Thursday.

Spoonhour said the Panthers have to figure out how to get Smith even more looks. And for the first time in 13 games, senior Montell Goodwin was shut down as Belmont held him to seven points. He scored in double digits in the previous 12 games.

20 games into the season and nine into the OVC schedule, Eastern still does not have everything figured out, Spoonhour noted.

“We’re still hashing out stuff that we should have figured out at this point,” he said. “Our decisions on offense really hurt our defense. We just took bad shots to begin the game.”

Eastern has a chance to redeem itself in the second game of this Nashville road trip against Tennessee State Thursday.

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