Column: Panthers must carry on from where they left off

Tom O'Connor, Basketball Columnist

Had the Panthers lost to Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Saturday, it would have marked the worst record in school history.

But the Panthers put together a refreshing 76-72 overtime win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville, who hoisted the second best win total, not to mention a 13-4 record against conference teams, heading into the final game.

As five players notched double-digit totals in points, this matchup revealed the Panthers’ palette of scoring options which had, at times, been limited to freshman standouts Taylor Steele and Karle Pace.

Could this be a harbinger of a more promising future?

Can the Panthers build upon a season marred by a losing record?

The Panthers displayed a diverse collage of performances this year, ranging from a 35-point loss to Wright State back in November, to the Panther’four-point victory Saturday.

No team can evade the inevitable shortcomings of a 29-game affair.

Instead, each Eastern women’s basketball player must save this win and file it away, dragging the defeats from the hard drive to the trash folder.

Ending the season on an upset victory against one of the best defensive teams in the conference, the Panthers short circuited the Cougars in overtime, after playing a half in which the Cougars, who shot just 29 percent during that span, came back late in the fourth.

Although Southern Illinois Edwardsville returned from an 18-point deficit at the half, Eastern resuscitated its shooting stroke, as the Panthers scored 18 points relative to the Cougars’ 10 in overtime.

While Eastern often struggled to weather scoring draughts this season, including the game against Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Saturday, the Panthers outshined the Cougars in shooting percentage.

Hard pressed for points in overtime, Eastern’s post play, a recurring problem for the team all year, gave the Panthers an edge when it mattered most.

Eastern’s three-point game, meanwhile, opened up shots in the paint, even though the Panthers possess a paucity of post-up players.

This activity down low did not, however, give way to more second chance opportunities, particularly in the first half when the Panthers had just two points off missed field goals.

Instead of reflecting on where the team went wrong this season, it might be more judicious to embrace the intermittent successes.

Then, when opening night comes around this fall, the Panthers can carry on from where they left off, spacing the floor and hitting whatever shots the defense permits.

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