Offensive cohesion a need for Panthers

Shareef+Smith+drives+to+the+lane+against+a+Eureka+College+defender+during+the+Panthers%E2%80%99+79-44+win+in+Lantz+Arena+on+Nov.+2.

JJ Bullock

Shareef Smith drives to the lane against a Eureka College defender during the Panthers’ 79-44 win in Lantz Arena on Nov. 2.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

The season-long journey of the men’s basketball team getting its cohesiveness and togetherness at the high-enough level has had a, as head coach Jay Spoonhour put it, bad start.

“This is part of learning to play with each other,” Spoonhour said. “We still have guys that are maybe trying to make plays that aren’t there, and if you only have (16) assists in two games, that’s not good enough.”

Eastern only had five total team assists in the season opener against Texas, and against IUPUI, the team had 11 assists. Along with the assists improvement, Eastern had five guys score in double figures against IUPUI, compared to two against Texas.

But, the five scorers in the IUPUI game were the only players who scored for Eastern.

“If you’re doing that, it’s because you’re just not looking to get other guys a shot,” Spoonhour said. “That’s what we’ve been working on, and so in the past two days, we’ve been really trying to work on not dribbling the ball so much; we’re dribbling it for no reason.”

Last season, the Panthers averaged 12.6 assists per game as a team, and through the first two games this season, the team is averaging eight assists per game.

With eight new faces on the Panther roster, which is a majority of the team, getting the team to work as a unit and think for others is something Spoonhour said before the season is a necessity, which will take all year to work out.

Spoonhour said the team is getting better all the time, but what he wishes would not happen is the team having to learn through losing.

“Losing is the worst possible way to learn,” he said. “Their attitude and everything on it is good, the way their picking stuff up is good, but that’s the thing they need to pick it up faster.”

Leading the Panther offense in the young season thus far has been junior-college transfer Rade Kukobat, who has averaged 15 points in the first two games.

Following him are Mack Smith, who has averaged 11.5 points per game, and Shareef Smith, who is averaging 10.5.

“Rade’s doing fine; he needs to shoot a better percentage; we need him to finish better around the rim,” Spoonhour said.

In fact, as a team, Spoonhour wants the team to finish better around the rim.

As a team, Eastern is shooting 35.8 percent, which is not a good number by Spoonhour’s standards. The reason, Spoonhour stated, is that the team has not finished around the basket.

“You’ve got to finish around the bucket, and you’ve got to get easier shots than jumpers,” he said. “If you can’t attack the basket and finish at the basket, if you can’t put other teams in a position where they have to help, then you can’t get open shots.”

Spoonhour said he has players who he knows can make shots near the basket, for example Kukobat, JaQualis Matlock and Josiah Wallace. 

“When Rade, or (JaQualis) or Josiah or whoever it is gets the ball around the basket and finishes it, well now the other team has to help,” Spoonhour said. “When they help, we can pass it, and then everything changes.”

To complement Eastern’s overall shooting percentage, the Panthers are shooting 30 percent from three-point range.

Both numbers are down so far from last year, when Eastern shot 42.4 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range.

The number that is up from last year is the free throw percentage which was 68.4 last year but is 77.3 percent this year. 

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