Panthers stay hot, beat Omaha 65-52

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The Daily Eastern News

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News The Eastern bench celebrates a basket against Omaha on Dec. 7 in Lantz Arena. The Panthers beat the Mavericks 65-52 for their fourth win in their last five games.

Adam Tumino, Women's Basketball Reporter

The Eastern women’s basketball team jumped ahead early against Omaha on Dec. 7 in Lantz Arena, setting the tone in a 65-52 victory against the Mavericks.

The Panthers (5-3) earned their fourth win in their last five games and ended a two-game winning streak for Omaha (4-6) in the process.

The Panthers led 23-10 at the end of the opening period, shooting 8-of-12 from the field and 4-of-6 from three-point range, both good for 66.7 percent, and held Omaha to 36.4 percent shooting including 0-of-3 from three.

“I thought the first quarter was the difference in the game,” Eastern head coach Matt Bollant said. “We outscored them by 13 and won the game by 13. They had won two in a row, and we kind of wanted to set the tone right away.”

With the tone set, the Panthers outscored the Mavericks in both the second and third quarters as well. Eastern entered the final quarter with its largest lead of the game: 18 points. The Panthers reached this number on a three-point field goal from freshman Morgan Litwiller.

The shot capped off a two-minute stretch in which Litwiller scored seven straight points for the Panthers, outscoring Omaha 7-2 during that stretch. She finished the game with a career-high nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field.

“Throughout the week in practice, coach had been working with us on post moves,” Litwiller said. “So that was a really big thing for me. I felt where my defender was on me. I saw some openings there, so I just took my opportunities.

The 18-point lead entering the fourth quarter turned out to be very beneficial, as Omaha scored 11 of the first 13 points in the period to cut the Panther lead to just nine points with just 4:25 remaining in the game.

Then another Eastern freshman, Lariah Washington, went on a seven-point run. It began with an offensive rebound and layup, on which she was fouled. She converted the free throw before Omaha responded with a three-pointer with 2:49 remaining.

This was the last basket for the Mavericks, but not for Washington, who scored four more points to finish with a career-high 18 while shooting 60 percent from the field.

Washington’s fourth-quarter run followed a scoreless third quarter.

She led the team in scoring at the half. After the scoring drought, and missing an open layup earlier in the quarter, Washington said she was able to put it behind her and make shots. She also said that she came into the game looking to score.

“The last few games, I know I wasn’t a big offensive threat,” Washington said. “I knew I had to come out here and do that to help. I know Omaha’s a big team and I tried to play my role and do that for (the team).”

Omaha’s size was a focus for Eastern coming in, as the Mavericks have six players on the roster listed at 6 feet or taller compared to Eastern’s three. But the Panthers were able to outscore Omaha in the paint 24-22 and were only slightly outrebounded by the Mavericks, 37-34.

Washington and junior Karle Pace led the Panthers with six rebounds each despite being 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-8 respectively.

Litwiller said that rebounding was a major focus for the team in practice during the week.

“We’re a bit smaller than some teams,” she said. “We knew coming in to this game that we had to want to rebound, and that was what it was going to take for us to win.”

With the win, the Panthers’ record is two games above .500 for the first time this season and the first time since Jan.5, 2018, when they lost to Southern Illinois Edwardsville to fall to 7-6 overall on the season.

Eastern plays again Dec. 19 on the road against Northern Illinois in the Compass Tournament. The game tips off at 7 p.m. from DeKalb.

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]