Slow second half downs men’s basketball team

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Slow second half downs men’s basketball team

Senior Muusa Dama drives past Jacksonville State's Christian Cunningham in the Panthers' 75-56 loss to the Gamecocks Thursday in Lantz Arena. Dama finished with 11 points and six rebounds.

Senior Muusa Dama drives past Jacksonville State's Christian Cunningham in the Panthers' 75-56 loss to the Gamecocks Thursday in Lantz Arena. Dama finished with 11 points and six rebounds.

Karina Delgado

Senior Muusa Dama drives past Jacksonville State's Christian Cunningham in the Panthers' 75-56 loss to the Gamecocks Thursday in Lantz Arena. Dama finished with 11 points and six rebounds.

Karina Delgado

Karina Delgado

Senior Muusa Dama drives past Jacksonville State's Christian Cunningham in the Panthers' 75-56 loss to the Gamecocks Thursday in Lantz Arena. Dama finished with 11 points and six rebounds.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Jacksonville State is one of the top defenses in the league, as it leads in nearly every major defensive category and it showcased just that in Thursday night’s win over the Eastern men’s basketball team.

The Gamecocks used a 44-point second half to slip past the ailing Panthers 75-56. Eastern trailed Jacksonville State 31-29 at the end of the first half, seeming to hang around, but for the third game in a row, Eastern’s offense never hit its stride.

“They kicked our butts pretty good,” coach Jay Spoonhour said immediately after the game. “That second half I thought we were slow to get back, so we were constantly playing from behind; catch-up.”

Jacksonville State opened the second half on a 12-0 run and Christian Cunningham had a 6-0 run himself.

And the Gamecocks brought energy and set the tone for how the second half was going to go for Eastern with two dunks to open the second half that sent the Jacksonville bench into a frenzy.

“(Cunningham) puts himself in position to do that kind of stuff, because he is an athletic guy, he’s active, he knows how to play,” Spoonhour said. “Their team did a good job of catching it and passing the ball. They put themselves in good positions to get lay-ins.”

Jacksonville State outscored the Panthers 38-14 in the paint. It was two different worlds for the Panthers and the Gamecocks there. Ask the Gamecocks to score in the paint, and they’ll provide. Ask Eastern to do it, and Jacksonville State was standing in its way.

Spoonhour has said after most losses that the Panthers take shots that are not there or try to make a play that is not there. And that was the tale of the second half for Eastern.

The 29-point and the 27-point halves for Eastern are nearly the same, but the journey to scoring those points could not have been different.

Jacksonville State’s energy led to it making more defensive stops and took the Panthers out of their rhythm in the second half, Goodwin said.

“They pressured us and made us get out of our comfort zone,” Goodwin said. “They (were able to) turn that into offense. We didn’t come out ready, and if we come out more aggressive next we’ll get it.”

Eastern may not have scored much in the first half, but it gave Goodwin confidence that Eastern may be able to turn it around, he said.

“It felt like we were starting to gel together, then we just dropped the ball a little bit (in the second half),” he said. “We can’t just play a 20-minute half, we have to play a full 40-minute game.”

Eastern took rushed shots rather than making a play to find the open player, but both Spoonhour and senior Montell Goodwin both said it was both Eastern doing it to itself and simply Jacksonville’s solid defense.

“They pressure you, they make it hard on you, but we got to the line 20 times, but we probably needed to get there 35 times,” Spoonhour said. “We settled, we stayed on the perimeter too much.”

Spoonhour did not want to harp on players have to be in spots they are not used to, but still said they have to be able to go out and make the right plays.

The loss dropped the Panthers to 3-8 in OVC play and have a chance to get back into the win column Saturday at home against Tennessee Tech.

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