Men’s basketball shows good depth in win Tuesday


The Daily Eastern News

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Deang Deang defends Chicago State’s Xavier Johnson as Johnson brings the ball up the court. Deang led Eastern with 21 points in the Panthers’ 98-34 victory in Lantz Arena Tuesday.

Tom O'Connor, Men's Basketball Reporter

No matter how you might unpack the 98-34 drubbing of Chicago State on Tuesday, the communication and cohesion, groomed by the Eastern bench, could be difficult to deny.

Chicago State was a rather pleasant, uplifting deviation from what the Panthers have been up against to open the season, playing two teams from the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Texas Tech and Wisconsin, in the first two games.

Billed as the most difficult match ups on the schedule, the Texas Tech and Wisconsin games probably provided the Panthers with the assurance that, in spite of the results, their ability to keep up with top tier basketball programs will translate to a winning brand of basketball come time for the conference slate.

For the home opener against Chicago State, though, there was plenty for the Panthers to be sanguine about, manifest in the sheer frustration of the Cougars’ guards whenever they happened to miscalculate on drives.

“You’re playing against yourselves, essentially,” Spoonhour said. “You’re trying to limit mistakes and execute better and I thought we concentrated all the way through. We are not cured by any means. We have plenty of chances to do things we shouldn’t do, but for tonight, we handled it really well.”

The Panthers carved out a 14-2 advantage when it came to fast break points, with the Panthers pushing the pace and finding Josiah Wallace on the other end for quick baskets. Chicago State travelled about the court somewhat freely, too, except when they moved it, they forgot to put the ball on the floor. The Cougars were called for a surfeit of traveling violations in the first half alone.

The Panthers were efficient yet patient, confident yet willing to pass up on a decent look for an even more promising one. They were effective yet determined to assemble another scoring run to thwart the temptations of complacency.

“I have not been especially happy with how we have practiced, they’re aware of it,” Spoonhour said. “I do not think we concentrate as well as we need to all the time, so we need to get better at that.”

But those lapses of concentration were in no way evident on Tuesday night. And there were certainly moments in which the appeal of holding back was palpable, as the Panthers went on a 23-0 run early in the first half and a 19-4 spurt minutes into the second.

When they mounted leads of 31, 46 and finally 64 points, their energy did not wander from the court.

For starters, Eastern’s bench production was beyond reliable.

The Cougars soaked up production from just two players, whereas the Panthers got something out of every rotation player that entered the game.

“Those two last games we had, Texas Tech and Wisconsin, left a bad taste in our mouth, so we had to come out, play within ourselves, and we knew it was a game that we could win,” said Mack Smith.

Fifty of the Eastern points were generated by the quartet that came in to reinforce the lead of the starting group. Once the Cougar guards, fraught by an incapacity to find their fellow shooters out on the perimeter, halted one of those aforementioned scoring runs, the Eastern bench built it back up again.

They were armed with the trustworthy shooting stroke of Deang Deang, who shot 60 percent on threes and went a perfect 4-4 at the free throw line.

Deang inserted himself in just about every facet of the game, handling the ball with care and doling it out to his teammates for the assist.

Eastern forced Chicago State into a whopping 26 turnovers and made an extra pass, or sometimes two, before the ball made its way to its final destination, frequently arriving in the hands of Deang out on the perimeter.

The production off the bench, mirroring the grit with which Wallace and Marvin Johnson supplied at the outset of both halves, impelled the Cougars to become particularly frustrated. This angst had been the impetus behind some rather hard fouls, including a flagrant, called on Rajeir Jones, when he shoved Smith to the ground on a three-point attempt, not to mention the careless passing.

“The hardest thing with new guys and a new team is to figure out what their identity is,” Spoonhour said. “And if these guys can embrace that being their identity we got a chance.”

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]