Men’s basketball has testing weekend ahead


JJ Bullock

Eastern guard Shareef Smith works on a Morehead State defender in the Panthers’ 84-78 loss on Feb. 2 in Lantz Arena. Eastern travels to play Southern Illinois Edwardsville Thursday.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

The Eastern men’s basketball team will once again be battling this weekend to keep themselves in as high a place as possible in the conference standings.

On Thursday, Eastern travels to face Southern Illinois Edwardsville, and Saturday, the Panthers host Southeast Missouri.

While both teams are lower in the OVC standings and have worse records, Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour has said, before the first time Eastern and Southeast Missouri met Jan. 26, that the Panthers are not that much further ahead than the bottom half of the conference.

Both teams Eastern faces this weekend gave Eastern trouble the first time around.

The Cougars visited Eastern in Lantz Arena Jan. 5, in both teams’ second conference game. Eastern won the game eventually, 84-81 in overtime, but the Cougars put up a fight.

One player who specifically gave Eastern trouble was Cougars point guard Tyresse Williford.

Williford ended the game with 15 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. What made him dangerous to the Panthers was the speed with which he played.

Williford was the fastest player on the court, whether it be bringing the ball up the floor or even quickly getting into the lane and distributing the ball to an open teammate.

His speed also helped him to score a majority of his points by getting to the foul line. He finished the game 9-9 from the free throw line, which constituted 60 percent of his points.

The Cougars have four players who score in double figures on average, led by Williford and David McFarland, who each average 14.3 points per game.

Southeast Missouri has its own danger factor to make Eastern worry: tight defense.

The last time Eastern and Southeast Missouri played, Eastern enjoyed a quick start offensively, but as the first half went along and as the second half played out, the Redhawks’ defense kept Eastern further away from the basket and from getting into a rhythm.

Eastern’s 59 points is tied for the second-lowest point total the team finished with this season. The Panthers also finished the game 5-of-22 from three-point range, one of their worst shooting performances from deep this season.

Even though Eastern goes into the weekend in fifth place in OVC standings, the Cougars and Redhawks both have reason to play as good as possible for the rest of the season.

The Cougars are tied with Eastern Kentucky (4-8 OVC) to hold the final playoff spot right now (eighth place), and the Redhawks are tied with two other teams for ninth place, just a game behind the Cougars and Colonels.

After dropping chances to beat OVC-powerhouses Murray State and Austin Peay last week, Eastern needs wins this week to stay ahead of the rest of the pack.

Eastern faces the Cougars at 5:30  p.m.Thursday, then hosts the Redhawks at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

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