Jacksonville State hands Eastern first OVC loss


File Photo

Eastern guard Kashawn Charles drives the basket in a Panthers’ win over Fontbonne in December. Eastern lost to Jacksonville State 69-62 on Thursday.

Oscar Rzodkiewicz, Basketball Reporter

Eastern’s undefeated conference start came to end Thursday night as the Panthers fell to Jacksonville State by a final tally of 69-62.

It was a back-and-forth battle that included seven lead changes, but a late run from the Gamecocks kept Eastern at bay.

Panthers head coach Jay Spoonhour said the competitiveness was obvious.

“It was a really physically tough game in a great atmosphere,” Spoonhour said. “I thought both teams really fought hard. Down the stretch, Jacksonville executed and completed a few more plays than we did.”

Eastern started hot, jumping out to a 16-9 lead early off some strong shooting from sophomore Josiah Wallace who converted 4-of-8 shots for nine points in the first half.

Jacksonville State managed to claw back behind some sharp midrange shooting from senior Marlon Hunter as the starting guard poured in four buckets of his own.

Meanwhile, small errors became the story for both teams, as Jacksonville State and Eastern combined for 13 turnovers and 5-of-13 from the stripe through the first 20 minutes.

Freshman Ben Harvey avoided the slump though, earning six free throws after coming off the bench for a spark to keep the Panthers within distance.

Eastern countered the Jacksonville State’s athletic attack with more zone defense looks, and the Gamecocks picked through it at a decent clip, securing a 30-29 lead going into halftime.

Jacksonville State caught fire to start the second half with three straight unanswered three pointers, two of which coming from lead scorer senior Jason Burnell to open a nine-point lead early in the period.

The Panthers were not done yet, as a 13-1 run featuring five different Eastern scorers kept the game within one score for a large portion of the second half.

Spoonhour said he was pleased with the resilience.

“We fought back well,” Spoonhour said. “Ben (Harvey) was a big part of that. He got to the line and did a good job of helping us run offense.”

The Gamecocks flipped that script quickly though, starting a 13-0 run of their own to nab the lead back and held a big enough cushion to secure the win.

Offensive rebounds became a big factor as well, with the Gamecocks pulling down 12 boards off misses compared to Eastern’s seven.

Burnell posted a game-high 18 points coupled with five rebounds and three assists with Hunter right behind him with 15.

Wallace and Harvey both managed 14 points overall to lead Eastern in scoring.

Spoonhour said he hopes to see Harvey grow as the season goes on.

“Really for Ben, it’s about decision-making and choosing when to make certain plays,” Spoonhour said. “That requires time and patience. He’ll just continue to get better the more he plays.”

The Panthers move to 9-7 on the year and 2-1 in OVC play.

Eastern looks to get back on the winning track on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Tennessee Tech.

Oscar Rzodkiewicz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]