Eastern falls apart in third quarter, loses 78-49


File Photo

Eastern sophomore Grace McRae drives under the basket after receiving a pass from Grace Lennox (5) against Lincoln Christian on Nov. 12 in Lantz Arena. McRae had four points and five rebound in a 78-49 loss to Jacksonville State on Thursday.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

In a game that saw the Eastern women’s basketball team open with a 15-4 run, only to be returned with a Jacksonville State run of 18-0 all in the first quarter, it was ultimately a 17-0 run by the Gamecocks to open the second half that sealed a 78-49 loss for Eastern.

The run finished with Jacksonville State outscoring Eastern in the third quarter 31-4 on 73 percent shooting, and just like that, a game that began with so much promise for Eastern on both sides of the ball, ended with the Gamecocks sticking a dagger into the first game of a difficult road trip for the Panthers.

“I just felt like the other team really stepped up (in the third quarter),” Eastern head coach Matt Bollant said. “They went 6-for-9 from three in that quarter and got hot and we just had a stretch where we missed four or five layups and just couldn’t hit. It was a great atmosphere, great college atmosphere, really loud in the gym. They got going and we just didn’t find a way to get the momentum stopped.”

Everything that went well for Eastern in the first half, from shooting (44 percent in the first half) to defense (held Jacksonville State to 29 percent shooting) collapsed and went out the window in the third quarter as the Gamecocks put their foot on the gas pedal and floored it on their way to a second conference win of the season.

The two teams had many similarities coming into the game, with Identical 7-6 (1-1 OVC) records and the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked defenses in the conference.

The first half had all the makings of a game that would be a close defensive battle between teams twinning each other in almost every way. But when the third quarter began, the two teams could not have looked more different.

“We just didn’t seem to have any answers in that third quarter,” Bollant said. “Part of that was the other team just being really good and their crowd being good.”

Jacksonville State shot 58 percent in the second half, and Eastern shot just 25 percent.

Eastern was without its leading scorer in sophomore guard Karle Pace; she is day-to-day with a knee injury, and Bollant said her absence from the court was a factor in the game.

“Oh yeah absolutely (her being gone impacted the game),” Bollant said. “What she has done for us is kind of make a play when we needed a play to be made and I thought we played a really good first half without her, but that third quarter, she would have stepped up and made some plays I think.”

Eastern opened the game with a 15-4 run that forced Jacksonville State head coach Rick Pietri to burn an early timeout and try and regroup his team, that, within the first five minutes of the game appeared to be entirely overwhelmed by Eastern.

But, whatever Pietri said to his team during the timeout proved to be the right thing to say, because his team came out of the time out and closed the first quarter on an 18-0 run that saw the Panthers not score a basket for five minutes and 56 seconds.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville State could not miss.

The second quarter began with the two teams sticking to much of the same tone as the first quarter.

Eastern opened the quarter on a 7-0 run to push the score to 22-18 and Jacksonville State responded with a mini run of its own to retake the lead at 25-24.

The score would be tied at 29-29 by the time all was said and done in the first half, where neither of the teams seemed very willing to give up much ground at all.

Eastern held Jacksonville State to just 29 percent shooting in the first half, while shooting 44 percent itself. But foul after foul by the Eastern defense led to the Gamecocks getting to the free throw line 18 times in the half compared to just five for Eastern.

Jacksonville State was 11-of-18 from the free throw line, Eastern was just 1-of-5, and that is what ultimately kept Jacksonville State alive in the half.

Eastern’s road trip does not get any easier come Saturday when the Panthers will play Tennessee Tech (11-3, 3-0). Bollant recognized that there is still a long conference season ahead for Eastern, but a loss to Jacksonville State on Thursday raises the stakes against Tennessee Tech.

“You don’t have a choice (to move past a loss),” Bollant said. “You have to regroup, and one thing is you just make sure you stay together. Grace Lennox is going to gather the team and talk to the team on the bus and she’ll do that for us and hopefully everyone will follow suit. Make sure you stay together because adversity can pull you apart or it can bring you together and we’re trying to make sure it brings us together.”

The loss dropped Eastern to 7-7 overall, 1-2 in OVC play. Eastern plays Tennessee Tech Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

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