Column: Newcomers can provide a spark for men’s basketball

Oscar Rzodkiewicz, Assistant Sports Editor

Karina Delgado | The Daily Eastern News
Forward Braxton Shaw attempts to penetrate the defense in Eastern’s 66-51 exhibition win agaisnt the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Wednseday night at Lantz Arena.

The Eastern men’s basketball began the season with an exhibition matchup against Missouri-St. Louis, and although plenty of new faces graced the floor at Lantz Arena for the Panthers, they proved to be influential immediately.

In fact, two of the four additions to the 2019-2020 roster for the Panthers, junior Jordan Skipper-Brown and junior Marvin Johnson, entered the starting lineup for last night’s matchup, and they proved their worth in defensive intensity alone, swatting 8 blocks and collecting 20 rebounds combined.

Head coach Jay Spoonhour is privy to what the combination of those two can provide.

“They’re both long and it’s hard to finish over them,” Spoonhour said. “Marvin’s going to get deflections and Skip’s a real vertical athlete. Marvin’s the one who got the blocks tonight, but he’s going to get those and Skipper’s going to get his share of them.”

Although Skipper-Jones and Johnson may be comparable because they both slotted in the starting lineup, both fill slightly different holes left from last season.

After losing Aboubacar Diallo to graduation and Cam Burrell to the transfer portal, Eastern was left without one of its best interior defenders and versatile perimeter wings, but that’s not a problem considering what the new guys showed against the Tritons.

Skipper-Brown and junior George Dixon held down the fort alongside returning seniors JaQualis Matlock and Braxton Shaw, and the newbies, despite not matching up with Diallo’s 6-foot-9-inch frame, steadily affected the interior.

On top of that, Spoonhour doesn’t seem to be worried about a lack of height.

“When you get down to it, the height you are is measured to the top of your head,” Spoonhour said. “When you have a guy like Skip, who has got really long arms and he’s vertical, he plays like a 6-10 guy basically. I mean, he’s up around the rim, above the rim.”

To help supplement the loss of Burrell, Johnson and junior Deang Deang seem to be the natural replacements as Deang recorded one of the team’s three steals in a strong second-half defensively.

There are still plenty of returning players that need to put in strong performances if this team is going to succeed.

Juniors Josiah Wallace and Mack Smith may need to be double-digit scorers yet again, and junior Kashawn Charles may have to be another spark-plug scorer off the bench, but if the players that are on the roster for the first time in 2019 step into the roles it appears they’re capable of, Eastern should have no problem with the transition.

Oscar Rzodkiewicz can be reached at 581-281 or at [email protected].