Eastern to play 3 games in 3 days in Texas

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Eastern to play 3 games in 3 days in Texas

Eastern guard Marvin Johnon looks to pass inside in the Panthers’ 114-61 win against Indiana Northwest Nov. 18. Johnson had 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in the game.

Eastern guard Marvin Johnon looks to pass inside in the Panthers’ 114-61 win against Indiana Northwest Nov. 18. Johnson had 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in the game.

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern guard Marvin Johnon looks to pass inside in the Panthers’ 114-61 win against Indiana Northwest Nov. 18. Johnson had 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in the game.

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern guard Marvin Johnon looks to pass inside in the Panthers’ 114-61 win against Indiana Northwest Nov. 18. Johnson had 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in the game.

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

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The Eastern men’s basketball team (2-2) faces three opponents on back-to-back-to-back this weekend, and there are two factors to look for when the Panthers play.

Starting Friday, Eastern plays St. Francis at 2 p.m., then follows that up with a noon game Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, ending Sunday with a 2 p.m. game against Incarnate Word.

All the games are in San Antonio as part of the Incarnate Word MTE Event, and Eastern hosted its first game of the event Monday, which resulted in a 114-61 victory over Indiana Northwest.

Despite it being just four games into the season, there are a couple things to look for when Eastern plays this weekend.

Josiah Wallace?

By the standard of play Eastern guard Josiah Wallace set for himself last year, he is not living up to expectations.

Wallace is shooting 28.1 percent overall so far this season, 15.4 percent from three-point range and he is averaging just 6.3 points per game.

As of right now, those are steep drop offs from his numbers last season, where he averaged 15.5 points per game, on 41.1 percent shooting (35.3 percent from three-point range).

Those numbers indicate a slump some players endure after having a great season, but in Wallace’s case, opposing teams are hounding him defensively so he does not repeat last years performances.

Even Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour admires how Wallace has handled the situation so far this season.

“It’s not an easy thing, guys, to be a leading scorer and to have a whole lot of (publicity); you know everyone’s talking about what you’re going to do, and then you come out and everybody’s guarding you and you’re not scoring as much, you can put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Spoonhour said after Eastern’s win Monday. “And he’s handled it great.”

Wallace, as Spoonhour pointed out, is moving the ball well and finding open teammates for shots, and he is not forcing up shots or is not trying to reach a certain scoring mark.

But what makes this weekend in particular such a good time to think about Wallace’s performance so far is what he did last season around this time.

Last season, after starting the season 1-2, Eastern participated in the Battle in the Blue Ridge event in Asheville, North Carolina. In the three games, wins against Gardner-Webb, Arkansas State and a loss to UNC Wilmington, Wallace scored 22, 31 and 19 points, respectively.

All three of those scoring totals led Eastern in each game. Included in that scoring outburst was a pair of clutch shots that helped Eastern get the victory over Arkansas State.

In regulation, Wallace hit a shot in the paint with two seconds left to tie the game at 77 to send it to overtime. Then, in overtime, Wallace had 10 of Eastern’s 13 points, including a three-pointer with 38 seconds left that gave Eastern an 88-84 lead.

The key point for the performance was that, with eight seconds left, Wallace made one of his two free throws to give Eastern the 90-86 lead, with that free throw giving the Panthers that extra point to put the game out of one-possession range for Arkansas State.

With Wallace struggling in the scoring category so far, one has to wonder if this weekend will, once again, be the time for Wallace to break out and remind everyone what he is capable of.

Last season, the event in North Carolina started Saturday, and this weekend, the event starts Friday.

The timing adds up; now everyone just has to wait and see what Wallace will do this weekend.

Eastern’s defense

There is no question, even after just four games, that Eastern’s defense is better than it was last year.

Three-point defense is better than it was last season, and Eastern is rebounding really well. Eastern is averaging 40 rebounds per game so far, more than opponents’ 37 per game. That figure of 40 is fairly more than last season’s average of 35.8 rebounds per game.

All-around, there is no question Eastern is defending better so far.

Not only did the Panthers give Chicago State and Indiana Northwest nightmares, en route to only giving up 34 and 61 points to them, respectively, but Eastern’s defense held Wisconsin in check.

Eastern ended up losing 65-52 to Wisconsin on Nov. 8, but until Wisconsin went on a 15-0 run with 8:34 remaining then there was 2:50 remaining, the Panthers stayed within one-or-two baskets from tying the game or taking the lead.

But this weekend is the first and only time this season where Eastern will be playing three games in three  days, so it will be important to see if the Panthers’ defense gets tired after playing for so long.

But, for now, Eastern’s defensive stamina and effectiveness is pretty good.

In four games so far, Eastern is averaging 9.3 steals per game, better than its average of 6.3 steals per game last season.

But, as with its offensive statistics, Eastern’s defensive statistics include two blowout wins, so this weekend will answer the question of if Eastern’s defense is legitimate.

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