Mack Smith was humble, maybe a little too humble, after Eastern’s 98-34 trouncing of Chicago State Tuesday in the Panthers’ home opener.
Smith shot 3-of-7 from three-point range in the first half, finishing with 13 points, all from the first half. Considering the blowout score, Smith was not needed in the second half.
But all that mattered was his first three he made, a catch-and-shoot shot attempt he drained on the wing to extend his nation-leading streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer made to 52.
Even with that prestige attached to his name, Smith was more ready to discuss the team’s effort in the win.
“We most definitely needed this win to see where we are at as a team,” he said.
Despite not wanting to discuss some personal glory for his accomplishments, what Smith said speaks volumes as to what he can do for Eastern’s offense.
To be frank, Smith’s shooting will be the key for Eastern this season.
Last year, Eastern had more players available who could shoot threes on a somewhat regular basis, and considering how many threes the team attempted, Smith’s shooting prowess was not heavily relied on.
Among this year’s Eastern squad, between returners and newcomers, lethal three-point shooters are not as abundant.
Josiah Wallace had a good year shooting last season, but if the first three games this season are indicative of what is to come, Wallace will not have the same scoring year he did last season, which is not a bad thing.
Eastern looks to have more players capable of creating chances for themselves and scoring in bunches this season, but that scoring looks like it will come more from shots inside the three-point arc.
That leaves Smith’s shooting as the main source of outside scoring.
Last season, penetrating the lane was a challenge at times for Eastern, so three-point shooting was relied on a lot, too much at times.
Tuesday’s matchup was against a team that did not present a great challenge for Eastern, as the final score indicates, but the Panthers were penetrating the lane well, which lead to a lot of layups and shots in and around the lane.
That lane penetration also led to a lot of kick outs to open shooters.
As easy as it was for Eastern Tuesday, getting those open looks will not be that easy in the future, which makes Smith all the more valuable.
Smith’s three-point shots rarely ever come off a spot up shot; in fact, a lot of Smith’s attempts are catch-and-shoot.
If Eastern runs into its past problem of not being able to get inside and run its motion, Smith’s lethal shooting will be handy in providing baskets when other avenues are not available.
With his consistent ability to shoot from deep, he will be a catalyst in stretching the floor for the Panthers.
“(His shooting) changes everything,” said Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour. “Mack shooting it in, any of them shooting it in but especially Mack, it’s a big deal.”
A lot of Eastern’s roster can score inside, whether it be by driving, taking mid-range shots or posting up, so his mere presence as a shooter will be enough to keep defenses on their toes.
It was clear last year and was clear Tuesday: When Smith is shooting well and making shots, the team is playing well and will always have a chance.
Smith’s presence and shooting draws defenders out to him more and keeps the defense wary of where he is, which will open some space for Eastern’s other scorers.
Do not be fooled: Mack Smith’s shooting is something that makes him a threat on his own, but it will be a weapon for the Eastern offense as a whole.
As the season goes along, other Panthers will emerge as good shooters; it is bound to happen.
But Smith, as of right now, stands out as the main threat behind the three-point line for Eastern.
Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]