Men’s basketball: A season in review


File Photo

Coach Jay Spoonhour addresses the team during a timeout against Belmont Jan. 13 in Lantz Arena. The Panthers’ season was an up-and-down ride, but they found a way to make the OVC Tournament.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

The 2017-2018 season was supposed to be “the year” for the Eastern men’s basketball team.

Its core seniors were coming back and led by Terrell Lewis, Montell Goodwin, Muusa Dama and Ray Crossland, who were regular starters the season before.

This season also featured a flurry of transfer juniors that were ready to make impacts immediately.

D’Angelo Jackson, Jajuan Starks and Michael Chavers were the key players that Eastern brought in because of their ability to drive to the basket.

And the team’s lone freshman Mack Smith came in confident he would be making plays this year for Eastern.

Although Eastern made the tournament this year, the season was filled with heartbreak, and a “woe is me” moment-after-moment, even though Eastern did not look at it this way.

Nov. 3: Eastern beats Illinois 80-67 in exhibition opener

There was nothing like Eastern knocking off a Big Ten School to open its season in front of a sold-out Lantz Arena in support of the hurricane relief game the two teams played.

Lantz Arena never sells out. It just does not happen. But that day it did, and when the final buzzer sounded, Panther fans went berserk and Illinois fans walked toward the exits in succession, which started around the two-minute mark.

Its four core seniors all scored in double digits with Goodwin and Dama scoring 14 and Lewis notching four assists. Lewis also scored 13 points.

Nov. 11: Eastern loses 72-68 to Nebraska in season opener

It was early, sure, but beating Big Ten Illinois, and nearly beating Big Ten Nebraska just over a week later, said something.

This team could be the real deal.

The Huskers took the lead with just under four minutes to play and held off the Panthers just enough. Eastern, for the most part, kept it within one possession, but had to start fouling the Huskers, and it was a little too much.

After that game, coach Jay Spoonhour said the team could learn from their mistakes and become better.

“This was a really tough first road game and we handled ourselves pretty well overall. I was happy with how our guys competed. We put ourselves in a position to win,” Spoonhour said.

Nov. 27: Eastern loses 86-83 in overtime to Marquette

Just a few games after Nebraska, the Panthers nearly beat Big East Marquette. These games count as losses in the record book, but Eastern was showing it could hang with the best of the best.

Starks went off for 27 points, confirming that the transfers would make a difference early on. And Eastern was on the verge of winning the game, but Dama fouled with nine seconds left and Marquette’s Sam Hauser tied it up with a pair of free throws.

And Lewis, defensively, played as good a game as he has played.

“He played for 44 minutes and chased that kid (Andrew Rowsey) all over the floor and just would not get tired,” Spoonhour said. “Flat out would not get tired. He is like a little piece of wire. Those guys screening him are 250 pounds and he’s clipping them off. He weighs as much as one of their legs.”

Little did Eastern know that its “little piece of wire” would not be around much longer.

Dec. 6: Terrell Lewis suffers season-ending ankle injury

It was tough to talk about all year: “What could have been” if Lewis and his quickness and driving skills were available all season.

Knowing what Eastern had, for Spoonhour, became, “how do we get around this.”

Lewis redshirted the season.

Senior Ray Crossland pulls up for a jumper in the Panthers’ loss to Belmont Jan. 13 in Lantz Arena. Crossland stepped up in a variety of roles for Eastern this year, playing as one of its top defenders and having big scoring games as well.
File Photo
Senior Ray Crossland pulls up for a jumper in the Panthers’ loss to Belmont Jan. 13 in Lantz Arena. Crossland stepped up in a variety of roles for Eastern this year, playing as one of its top defenders and having big scoring games as well.

Dec. 30: D’Angelo Jackson suffers near season-ending ankle injury

Injuries happen in sports; there is no doubt about that. Teams adjust and find ways to make it work.

Well, the next man up for Eastern at point guard, the No. 2 guy that could drive the lane, draw attention and kick it back out to an open, Goodwin for a three, went down 24 days after Lewis.

“When (Lewis) went down, we could figure out what we were going to do and it was alright,” Spoonhour said after Eastern’s OVC Tournament loss. “When we lost two guys and it became more-and-more, we had to change the way we play.”

Jackson tried to return later in the season, but it was clear he never got back to 100 percent.

Jan 6: Goodwin plays full 40 minutes for first of eight out of 17 remaining games

When both players went down, Goodwin took over the lead role of this movie-like season, where he ended up handling point guard duties. He brought the ball up, had to score most of the points, had to get everyone set on offense and defend each team’s quickest players.

Goodwin saw the trainer two times a day to stay ready for each game, he said.

He finished the season averaging 15 points per game.

“Montell hasn’t come out of a game since late November, basically. What he has had to go through, he has really been something,” Spoonhour said.

Jan. 27: Logan Koch strains calf; done for season

Logan Koch was not giving Eastern lights out scoring nights or playing heavy minutes, but he was doing just enough to be vital asset for the team.

It was unclear when it actually happened, but as Koch was walking off the floor for a timeout, he dropped to the ground and sat just outside the paint. He had hit two three pointers in his 10 minutes of play.

He was the third true point guard Eastern had on its roster. While Goodwin was handling all the point guard duties, Koch added a little bit of life to the ailing Panthers as Goodwin already played three 40-minute games.

Jan. 18: Smith scores 22 points, proves to be key piece to Eastern’s season

This season was trying to put together a puzzle that did not have pieces that fit. A few here worked out, but a lot of it was jamming a piece in there hoping it could get the job done.

Smith, though, was a piece of the puzzle that fit, and fit right next to Goodwin. When he scored 22 points, a season high, he made himself known.

“(This game) shows me what I’m capable of at the college level,” Smith said after the game. “I don’t really think about how many points I’m going to score, how many threes I’m going to shoot, how many rebounds I’m going to get, I just go out there and see what happens.”

Feb 3: Shawn Wilson fractures hand, fourth guard out, third for year

Eastern won the game, Smith scored 31 points and everything seemed to be fine. Walk-on Shawn Wilson seemed like he could fill a void and play some point guard for Eastern.

Spoonhour said the Panthers would not have won without him. Wilson fractured his hand in the loss and then Spoonhour said, “This isn’t real life.”

It was not real life. Four point guards all injured.

Feb 28-March 1: Eastern is in the OVC Tournament

The Panthers won their first game of the tournament over Tennessee State and then lost to Austin Peay in the second round, ending the wild season.

The season was not a waste, but it was a shame, Spoonhour said. What some of the seniors had to deal with in their last season, always scrambling to find ways around the injuries.

Jackson made a return to the lineup Feb. 13, seeming like a full return was possible, but he ended up sitting out the final game of the regular season, played one minute in Tennessee State win, and 14 with one point in Austin Peay loss.

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