Spoonhour discusses Panther offense at OVC media day

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Eastern sophomore Mack Smith dribbles around a Southeast Missouri defender during his freshman season last year. Smith is returning to Eastern this year and figures to be on of the team’s top offensive weapons.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

An injury bug derailed the Eastern men’s basketball team’s season last year, affecting, for the most part, the Panthers’ guard play.

With starting and key players on the bench, Eastern’s offense was not able to perform to the level the team wanted to.

Head coach Jay Spoonhour said that at the beginning of last season his team relied on a ball-screen offense at OVC Basketball Media Day Tuesday.

“We had guys who could come off ball-screens,” Spoonhour said. “Then we had fewer (of those guys) after a couple games, then fewer to the point where we had to completely change everything we did.”

Spoonhour mentioned that the team went to a motion offense, trying to hang on to the ball and making the opponents’ big guys go out to the perimeter to guard.

At the end of the season, Eastern finished at the bottom of the conference for points scored per game, and had a scoring margin of -4.2 compared to conference opponents.

Regarding the team’s position at the bottom of the conference in scoring, he said the way to change that is through recruiting. 

“But I will say this, our scoring hasn’t always been great,” Spoonhour said. “Getting guys to share the ball is always a big deal, especially when you have new guys.”

Spoonhour added that new guys sometimes want to prove they can play, and sometimes in proving they can play, they take shots they shouldn’t take or try to make plays that aren’t there, and then they end up looking bad.

He said the players need to get over that, and they eventually will. 

Eastern lost some key and starting players, in guys like Ray Crossland, Jajuan Starks and Montell Goodwin. Goodwin was Eastern’s leading scorer last year, and Crossland and Starks were two of the Panthers’ featured wing forwards.

But Spoonhour said he feels like the team has more depth at the forward position than they have had previously, and regarding this year’s roster, Spoonhour said this year’s group scores pretty well.

“It’s not like you have to plug guys in to one position; we’re not in the deal where I’m thinking I have to have a small forward or whatever,” he said.

Spoonhour explained that the players on the team do not have a given position or boundaries; the forwards and guards can play multiple positions. 

As he talked about the depth the team has this season and the talent his players have, Spoonhour showed enthusiasm for what the team can offer this season.

Eastern’s roster has eight players listed as guards. Spoonhour admitted that the team might have gone overboard with guards after the injury situation last year, but he added that there can never be too many guards.

At the forward positions, there are five players listed. The only returning player at the forward position is Lucas Jones, and the only player listed as a center is Aboubacar Diallo.

With the guard position, Eastern has returning players like Terrell Lewis, who was injured last season but is a 1,000-point scorer for Eastern, and Mack Smith, who was thrust into a starting role as a freshman, as leaders for this year.

Smith had to step up because of the injury bug that plagued the guard position, and he ended the season as the second-leading scorer for Eastern with 12.4 points per game.

Spoonhour said players like Rade Kukobat, JaQualis Matlock, Braxton Shaw and Cam Burrell, who are all new players to the team, are athletic and have good ability. He said these players, along with others like Jones, are really similar and can be mixed and matched.

Regarding whether the team will return to the ball-screen offense like the beginning of last season, Spoonhour said he is not sure.

He said players like Shareef Smith, Josiah Wallace and Lewis are good at the pick-and-roll offense.

“But I don’t know if that’s necessarily everything we’ll do,” Spoonhour said. “I think we’re able to do some other stuff. We’ve got bigger guys who can spread out on the floor, so maybe we can do some stuff with them. I don’t think it will be strictly ball screens.”

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]