Opinion: Stagnant offense hands Eastern marginal defeat

Tom O'Connor, Sports Columnist

The Eastern women’s basketball team led Tennessee Tech for almost all of the game Saturday, yet, in a span of about 15 seconds, the Golden Eagles seized their first victory at Lantz Arena in seven years.

While it may seem as though the game came down to one possession, the Panthers became much more complacent offensively in the second half, putting the team in a dubious situation in the waning moments.

With 19 seconds left in the game and the Panthers up by one, Tennessee Tech freshman Jordan Brock stole the ball on an inbounds play, trekked the length of the court and finished with a layup over sophomore Danielle Berry at the other end. Had the Panthers inbounded the ball, the Eagles would have been forced to foul, with so little time remaining on the shot clock.

Eastern held a nine-point lead in the second quarter. However, instead of pulling away, the Golden Eagles took full command over the tempo, forcing Eastern into a slew of empty possessions.

“We started playing a little bit not to lose, and you just don’t play well when you do that,” Eastern head coach Matt Bollant said.

As Tennessee Tech double-teamed Eastern down the stretch, the Panthers panicked, prompting the Eagles to go on a 10-0 run in the fourth. Through three quarters, the Panthers exposed a tenuous  Golden Eagles team, as Eastern forced its opponent into a total of 15 turnovers.

“I thought the press helped them,” Bollant said. “We did not turn it over in the press, but we got a little tentative after we beat it and that hurt us a little bit.”

Minor missteps proved to be all the more pivotal against a team of comparable talent; both teams entered the game with the same records against conference opponents.

In totality, the Panthers went for a combined 3-7 or 42.9 percent from the free-throw line which, given the final score, proved to be nothing less than decisive.

Eastern has ironically accumulated a higher free-throw percentage on the road (65.4 percent) than at home (62.2 percent).

The Panthers outscored the Eagles in the first half, but struggled to replicate their stellar shooting performance in the latter stages, particularly in the fourth quarter, when the Panthers went 4-of-13 from the field and 1-of-5 on threes.

The loss exposed the Panthers’ inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball, evident in Eastern’s inability to take Tennessee Tech out of the game when it had the chance.

The Panthers, currently last in the OVC standings, have little margin for error these last six games of the season, especially with Eastern three games back of the final playoff slot.

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]