Eastern’s comeback falls short, lose to Austin Peay


Karina Delgado

Junior Jajuan Starks handles the ball at the top of the arc in the Panthers’ 76-69 loss to Austin Peay Saturday in Lantz Arena. Starks scored six points in the game.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

With just four games left in the season, the Eastern men’s basketball team is in a three-way battle for the final two spots to get into the OVC Tournament.

Saturday’s 76-69 loss to Austin Peay did not help Eastern’s chances, but Southeast Missouri did help Eastern by beating Tennessee-Martin, keeping Eastern one game ahead of the Skyhawks.

The Panthers are in seventh in the standings as Southeast Missouri is ineligible for the tournament due to an Academic Progress Rate historic penalty. Eastern has a one game lead on the 4-10 Skyhawks.

Saturday, Mack Smith continued his impressive freshman season as he led the Panthers with 28 points. One week ago he set the Eastern freshman scoring record with 31 points against Tennessee Tech in Eastern’s 79-71.

The Panthers were able to cut Austin Peay’s 15-point lead down to two with just over two minutes to go off a jumper by senior Montell Goodwin, but Chris Porter-Bunton answered with a three-pointer to push it to five.

Austin Peay’s big 41-point first half made Eastern’s 30-point performance seem mediocre, and the Governors were able to keep pushing it in the second half to hold off Eastern the whole way.

Eastern got it back within three points just 18 seconds later but started fouling in the final minute, and the Governors hit enough free throws to hold off Eastern.

Goodwin played 40 minutes for the fourth time this season and scored 17 points.

While Eastern is dealing with injuries at the guard position, coach Jay Spoonhour has mixed up the rotations more and more.

Junior Luke Jones played over 20 minutes again, junior Aboubacar Diallo played 16 and junior Ray Crossland played 33 after playing 38 on Thursday.

Diallo also picked up five blocks in the loss to give him 38 on the season which is third in the league behind Christian Mekowulu of Tennessee State, who has 39 and Christian Cunningham of Jacksonville State, who has 42.

Two of Eastern’s next four games may carry great significance as Tennessee-Martin and Southern Illinois Edwardsville are both fighting for the final two spots just like Eastern.

The Panthers beat both schools once already, meaning one more win against both will give Eastern the tiebreaker barring any tie at the end of the season.

The Panthers will also play the tournament-ineligible Redhawks, so another loss to them would really help the Cougars and Skyhawks.

Murray State leads the conference with a 12-2 record and has a tournament spot locked up.

Eastern plays Southeast Missouri on the road Thursday, and the return of D’Angelo Jackson may be on the horizon, which will help guys like Goodwin and Smith get good shots.

After Eastern’s win over Tennessee Tech Feb. 3, Spoonhour said that Eastern needs to start getting them more open shots.

The Panthers have their next two games on the road with the final two of the regular season at home in Lantz Arena.

The OVC Tournament is in Evansville, Ind. and starts Feb. 28.

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