Women’s basketball team prepared for tough road trip


File Photo

Eastern guard Taylor Steele guards an Illinois-Wesleyan ball-handler in the Panthers’ exhibtion win on Nov. 1. Eastern goes on the road to face Jacksonville State on Thursday and Tennessee Tech on Saturday.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Every team in the Ohio Valley Conference is treating their conference matches with a heightened sense of urgency after watching the mighty Belmont tumble earlier this season, as now all the teams in the conference view the league as open for the taking.

Headed into a Thursday night road game against Jacksonville State, the Eastern women’s basketball team is viewing its game against the Gamecocks with the same notion, the OVC is open and a win over Jacksonville State will push the Panthers even closer to the top of the conference.

Eastern head coach Matt Bollant said that with Tennessee Tech knocking off Belmont and a majority of the league being 1-1, that there is an increase in the importance of conference games for every team, especially on the coming road trip for Eastern.

“Obviously our goal is to make the conference tournament and to be playing in that,” Bollant said. “This is a tough road trip because Tennessee Tech (which Eastern plays Saturday) is the top team and Jacksonville State is certainly one of the—last year I think they finished third or tied for third—so these are two of probably the top five, six teams that we’re going on the road to play against.”

The road trip certainly does figure to be a tough one for Eastern, and it begins Thursday night with a game against Jacksonville State that features the Gamecocks’ top ranked OVC defense against the Panthers’ second ranked OVC defense. 

Bollant is, not surprisingly, expecting a low-scoring game. 

“I think someone in the 60s is probably going to win the game,” Bollant said. “They’re really good defensively and they can shut you down and play good man defense, and hopefully we can slow them down as well.”

Eastern’s plan to get through the Jacksonville State defense is to just take good shots and limit bad looks with the ball.

“They are not someone that you are going to get easy, quick shots against,” Bollant said. “So, being disciplined to take good shots and take care of the basketball, be patient, but just have a combination of aggressive and kind of patient at the same time.”

The road trip for Eastern will go right from playing the top defense in the conference on Thursday for Eastern to playing who Bollant calls the “team to be right now” in the conference in Tennessee Tech (10-3, 2-0).

Eastern too, however, is playing confident. With a 7-6 record, the Panthers have already won four more games than they did all of last season, and the expectation now is becoming that this team should be able to go on the road and be very competitive against schools like Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech. 

“(Winning) is certainly the hope and the expectation, and we will see if we are there,” Bollant said. “Obviously, getting the Western Illinois win was a huge win on the road for us, just to know that we can do it and then to go and be ahead of Northern Illinois at half and be ahead of them at half really gives us confidence that we can do this.”

A win over Jacksonville State on the road, who was predicted to finish third in the preseason conference poll, would only get the Panthers’ snowball of confidence rolling even further.

“(A win) would be huge,” Bollant said. “We didn’t win a single road game last year in the conference, and so getting our first one would be huge and especially against a team that’s probably in the top five or six in our league.” 

Eastern and Jacksonville State tip-off Thursday at 5:15 p.m. 

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]