Eastern to host top-defensive team Jacksonville State

Eastern+junior+guard+Carmen+Tellez+takes+the+ball+up+the+court+in+an+exhibiton+match+against+Rose-Hulman+at+Lantz+Arena+Nov.+13.+Tellez+will+be+coming+off+the+bench+for+Eastern%E2%80%99s+game+with+Jacksonville+State+on+Thursday.
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Eastern to host top-defensive team Jacksonville State

Eastern junior guard Carmen Tellez takes the ball up the court in an exhibiton match against Rose-Hulman at Lantz Arena Nov. 13. Tellez will be coming off the bench for Eastern’s game with Jacksonville State on Thursday.

Eastern junior guard Carmen Tellez takes the ball up the court in an exhibiton match against Rose-Hulman at Lantz Arena Nov. 13. Tellez will be coming off the bench for Eastern’s game with Jacksonville State on Thursday.

Sean Hastings

Eastern junior guard Carmen Tellez takes the ball up the court in an exhibiton match against Rose-Hulman at Lantz Arena Nov. 13. Tellez will be coming off the bench for Eastern’s game with Jacksonville State on Thursday.

Sean Hastings

Sean Hastings

Eastern junior guard Carmen Tellez takes the ball up the court in an exhibiton match against Rose-Hulman at Lantz Arena Nov. 13. Tellez will be coming off the bench for Eastern’s game with Jacksonville State on Thursday.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Jacksonville State women’s basketball program is off to its best start in OVC play of this decade and it is easy to tell why; a top ranked defense and a rebounding unit to match have created a recipe for one of the best teams in the program’s history.

The Gamecocks sit at 7-3 in the OVC and in a tie for third place with Morehead State, and Jacksonville State’s success can be credited to a defense that ranks first across the board in almost every defensive category.

Jacksonville State coach Rick Pietri’s team is holding the opposition to a league best 56.4 points per game and have held opponents to under 50 points in seven games this season.

Additionally, the Gamecocks have held teams to an OVC best 36.6 field goal percentage and a league low 441 made shots this season.

But, it will be Jacksonville State’s perimeter defense that will create the most intriguing matchup for Eastern.

The Panthers have attempted the second-most three-pointers in the OVC but have made them at a third-worst 29.9 percent. While the Panthers are already shooting from beyond the arc in high volume and in turn converting them at a relatively low-number, the matchup between Eastern’s shooters and Jacksonville State’s perimeter defense, which has held opponents to an OVC best 25.9 percentage from three this season, could be the difference between winning and losing.

In preparation for Jacksonville State, Eastern coach Matt Bollant has had his team focusing on getting better at the things they have been struggling at this season, rather than focusing on the Gamecock’s defense.

“I think if we can ball screen against them and we screen a body, we should be able to get some stuff off that,” Bollant said. “But then you have just got to be patient. You can’t expect to get a shot off on the first pass and you have got to cut hard and make a few passes to break them down and get a better shot.”

Stifling teams on defense has coupled well this season with Jacksonville State’s second-ranked rebounding this season.

Jacksonville State is second in offensive rebounds, averaging 14.8 per game and second in defensive rebounding at 27.5 per game.

This is another area Jacksonville State is near the top in and Eastern has struggled with this season. Despite that however, the Panthers have been working every day on improving their rebounding and the hope is, it will be better for Thursday’s game.

“We’re trying to get better. Obviously (rebounding) is not something that we’re great at but we’re trying to get better every game,” Bollant said. “We’re trying to block out, pursue the ball and keep people fresh as we rotate as well.”

Freshmen forward Grace McRae will start in place of junior guard Carmen Tellez in an effort by Bollant to improve the team’s rebounding.

Something Eastern has been trying to correct has been its play in the second half of games. In the Panthers last four games, they are shooting just over 25 percent from the field in the second half of games, and at times look like an entirely different team on the court after halftime.

This is an issue that Bollant has spoken on before, crediting the night and day switch to just a lack of players stepping up and making plays, large in part because of a lack of upperclassmen in the rotation.

Bollant did say however, that the team’s juniors looked as good as they have all season in practice leading up to the Jacksonville State game, something he hopes will translate into the game.

Eastern and Jacksonville State play at 5:15 p.m. Thursday at Lantz Arena.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 of [email protected]