Eastern falls apart late in loss to Golden Eagles


JJ Bullock

Eastern freshman Cam Burrell goes up for a layup in the Panthers’ 63-57 loss to Tennessee Tech on Saturday. The loss dropped the Panthers to the sixth seed in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

The worst team in the OVC came in to Lantz Arena Saturday and defeated the Eastern men’s basketball team 63-57 on the Panthers’ senior night.

Tennessee Tech, who went into Saturday with a 3-14 record (good for last place in the OVC), came up clutch late in the game and killed any chance for Eastern to grab the fifth seed in the OVC tournament.

Eastern’s only chance to take the fifth seed in the tournament, which starts Wednesday in Evansville, Ind., was to defeat Tennessee Tech and hope Morehead State lost to Eastern Kentucky on the road.

Morehead State ended up taking the fifth seed with the road win over the Colonels (who also needed to win to get a tournament spot but missed the cut), so Eastern is the sixth seed in the tournament.

Like most of the Panthers’ games this season, it was close throughout and the ending was ever closer.

But Saturday, like the second half of the season, went opposite to the first; the Panthers did not emerge victorious in the close battle.

“Well, I’m just sick about how we played today and how we’ve been playing, just sick of it,” said Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour. “We did not make shots, I think we probably did alright of not just settling for them.”

Eastern looked like it was going to take the win on its senior night, where the two seniors, Aboubacar Diallo and Lucas Jones, were honored.

With 1:32 left in the game, Eastern led 57-56 after Tennessee Tech’s leading scorer, Junior Clay, made an easy layup.

Clay was not done making clutch shots for his team, though.

With 20 seconds left in the game, he had the ball at the top of the three-point arc. A teammate set up a screen for him to use, but he did not use the screen, going back the way he came from, and pulled up a three-pointer that he swished clean through for the lead.

Eastern took the ball down the court, not using a timeout, and Wallace missed a 27-foot three-pointer off the front of the rim with nine seconds left.

The Golden Eagles made four free throws in the remaining time to seal the game.

While Eastern tripped at the end of the game and fell out of contention for fifth place, what really killed the Panthers was the 2-3 zone defense Tennessee Tech used.

Eastern’s continual problem, even late in the season on Saturday, is if it cannot make its three-point shots, it cannot get much of any offense going at all.

Eastern has searched for an answer to its handling of this problem, but there is no bonafide post-scorer for the Panthers.

JaQualis Matlock and Cam Burrell have gotten better and more aggressive as the season has come to its end, but Eastern’s inside presence is not strong enough and has not been able to carry it.

In the first half of Saturday’s game Eastern shot 1-of-11 from three-point range (Mack Smith made the three on a four-point play).

Other than that the panthers could not penetrate the defense well or finish, shooting 9-of-30 overall in the first half and 23-of-62 for the game overall.

Eastern got better penetrating and getting in the lane in the second half but still missed shots inside and still shot poorly from three-point range (3-of-11).

Ben Harvey led the charge for Eastern in the second half, making an effort to bring his team back for the win. He was instrumental in breaking inside Tennessee Tech’s defense and led Eastern with 15 points off the bench (only had two points in the first half).

“They left the middle wide-open,” Harvey said. “We just weren’t hitting shots, weren’t getting to the rim enough. I just found a rhythm, got to the basket, made a couple layups.”

Diallo, in his last regular-season game at Eastern, scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and recorded one block. That block puts him alone in second place all-time on Eastern’s career block list with 101 career blocks.

Jones played eight minutes, taking one shot that barely rimmed out, while also grabbing one rebound and getting one steal.

As the sixth seed Eastern faces the seventh-seeded Tennessee-Martin Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern has defeated Tennessee-Martin in both meetings this season.

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