Column: Eastern men’s basketball team will defeat Austin Peay if they meet again

Tom O'Connor, Basketball Reporter

With 19.8 seconds left and Eastern ahead 40-26 in the quarter finals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, Governors star Dayton Gumm, who was then a freshman, barreled into the lane, showed the pump fake and turned his body toward the left corner.  But Gumm did not communicate with senior Tre’ Ivory on that possession, passing the ball into a vacuum of open space, where he thought his backcourt associate would be standing.

Eastern ball.

Austin Peay head coach Matt Figger had seen enough. Out went Gumm and in came junior Zach Glotta. 

At the start of the second half, however, in came continuity and out went miscalculation.

It was a substitution they kept for the remainder of the game and one that, on many levels, the Panthers struggled to bounce back from.

For some legions of the media, that ending should never have been the ending.

Austin Peay had been deemed everything less than a playoff caliber team, and Eastern, with all its impenetrable defensive schemes, came in at eighth on the media’s conference leaderboard. 

When the media cohorts issued their 2017-18 preseason poll, they placed Eastern at eighth and Austin Peay at 10th.  They could not have been any more inaccurate.   

Austin Peay, a team that opened the season 1-3, took third, while Eastern fell to seventh.

Flash forward to today, Austin Peay and Eastern, both riding into the weekend on two game losing streaks, are off to sluggish starts. 

Austin Peay has been heavily rumored to be a lock for the playoffs, falling in at number four on the media’s latest preseason poll.  

The Panthers, pegged as postseason favorites according to the same projections, brought back most of its roster.

Would it be absurd to forecast an Eastern and Austin Peay playoffs rematch?

No, not at all.

If both teams defied expectations last season, could they do so again one year later?

Yes, absolutely.

Just like last season, that same survey should prove to be nothing more than a specious estimate.

But this time, as surprising as this might sound, Eastern will outshine Austin Peay, not the other way around. 

Harkening back to Eastern’s 77-63 loss, what kept the Panthers contained after the intermission was Austin Peay’s veritable eruption of second chance points, as the Governors collected 10, out of a total of 16, in the second half alone.

That was to be completely expected.

The Governors were in the OVC’s upper echelon when it came to point production, reassuring their reputation with the fourth-highest rate.

All the more telling was the fact that Austin Peay, regarded in league circles as a formidable low post presence, had a tendency of overpowering naïve big men in the paint, holding its own as the most potent offensive rebounding team in the OVC last season.

Eastern, for the record, finished eighth in offensive and defensive rebounding. 

The Panthers stand an even greater chance of defeating Austin Peay if this hypothesis of a second go around comes to fruition. They will not get beat as much down by the basket. 

  Preseason prophesies did not take into account one of Eastern’s offseason developments.

In any case, Eastern added a lengthy recruit to the mix this past offseason, freshman Cam Burrell.

Indeed, Burrell’s youth will give Eastern, which has nine upperclassmen on the roster, a facelift. 

A Southtown player of the year as a senior, the six-foot-seven, 175 lbs Burrell has a soft touch around the rim, along with a knack for sealing off defenders to snatch the rebound.

Burrell appears to be a nice acquisition, one that could starve Austin Peay of its cravings for second chance opportunities.

 This asset will pay dividends, while other front court players, senior Aboubacar Diallo being the most prime example, can exert all sorts of havoc down low, namely an ability to block shots.

The media forgot about Cam Burrell ,and they might want to remember his name now.

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