Column: Three takeaways from Eastern’s win over Austin Peay


Karina Delgado

Eastern point guard Shareef Smith tries to keep a ball in Eastern’s posession during the Panthers’ 85-83 win over Austin Peay on Saturday in Lantz Arena. Smith made a game-winning shot with four seconds remaing to give Eastern the win.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

The Eastern men’s basketball team is now 4-2 in conference play and 11-8 overall, after losing to Murray State Thursday and defeating Austin Peay Saturday.

Hosting those two teams back-to-back on one day’s rest was going to be one of the toughest challenges the team will face this season. 

Probably second only to when the Panthers faced both on the road back-to-back on Feb. 7 and Feb. 9, and Eastern emerged with a victory over one of the then undefeated OVC teams.

Now, after standing tough against Austin Peay and earning a validating win over the Governors and having seen the OVC’s top team face-to-face, Eastern knows what to do going forward.

Here are three takeaways about Eastern after its challenging weekend.

Speed kills… Eastern

Ahead of the Panthers’ matchup with Murray State, head coach Jay Spoonhour said Eastern could not let Murray State play fast and play on a broken court. 

After the game, Spoonhour said that his team let Murray State play too fast early in the game.

The official statistics say the Racers only got eight fast-break points, but aside from that, Murray State moved the ball quickly on offensive possessions to get easy baskets.

Even during Eastern’s second conference win of the season, an 84-81 overtime victory over Southern Illinois Edwardsville, Tyresse Williford was able to slice through Eastern’s defense at times and on fast breaks due to his speed and finished with a 15-point, 11-assist double-double.

Patience helps

Where the Panthers cannot necessarily run with other teams that well sometimes, what does help the Panthers is when they can get their offense or defense established, and even play slower to an extent.

After the Murray State loss, Spoonhour said a lot of Eastern’s possessions had one Panther drive to the basket after just one pass, not running through the offense. 

After both games, Spoonhour mentioned there were times where bad possessions came about because of not running what the team wanted to do.

Eastern excels offensively when they can move the ball around and hold it longer during a possession. Whether the possession ends with a drive to the basket or a three-pointer, running through the offense and making adaptations where needed has been effective for Eastern.

Since the beginning of the season, ball movement has been a concern for Eastern. 

Spoonhour acknowledged that he had a lot of guys on the team who are capable of scoring on their own, and he had to make them think to pass more and help their teammates score.

Against Austin Peay, especially, moving the ball more on possessions led to the Panthers getting shots near the basket or getting open three-pointers. 

Even so, he said possessions turned into guys just driving, and he would like for the team to be able to handle pressure and still screen and cut and make passes.

Defensively, when Eastern does not let its opponents run in the open floor, the Panthers can establish themselves better and have a better chance to stop opponents from scoring, rather than hoping for a miss or mistake on a fast break.

In one of Austin Peay’s first possessions of the game, Eastern forced them to throw up a hurried shot at the end of the shot clock (a miss) after not giving the Governors any lanes or open chances.

Allowing themselves to get set up more also helps the Panthers get in help positions defensively, as Eastern has trouble when opponents drive to the lane, so getting the defense set up allows the Panthers to be in position to help on drives.

It also lets Eastern get in good rebounding positions, important to Eastern as it is 10-0 when outrebounding its opponents.

Do not count them out

Spoonhour has had to say it a few times after his team had to come from behind for a win, but his team has a lot of fight. 

Austin Peay lead by 14 points with 9:48 left in the game, looking like it was about to run away with the victory. But Eastern quickly came back and toughed out the 85-83 victory off Shareef Smith’s jump shot with two seconds left.

When down or when faced with making clutch plays at the end of regulation, the Panthers have shown they are capable of doing so and have found success. 

Along with the victory over Austin Peay, Eastern trailed to Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Tennessee-Martin at the end of regulation and tied the game, winning both in overtime. 

The only conference win Eastern did not have to tie or win at the end of regulation, or trailed by a lot at some point, was its 67-60 win over Tennessee Tech.

On top of all that, Eastern has shown it can win in overtime, going 4-0 so far in such games.

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