Column: Men’s basketball struggles early in OVC

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

The Daily Eastern News
Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News
Junior guard Josaih Wallace looks to move the ball while heavily defended in Eastern’s 93-80 win against Green Bay Dec. 7th at Lantz Arena.

A lot happened over the break, and for the men’s basketball team specifically, that meant an 0-4 start to its conference schedule.

The winless start to OVC play is shocking to say the least, and Eastern does need to start kicking it into gear to bounce back before it gets out of hand.

Four straight losses does not mean Eastern fans and the team itself should panic, but this week will be important for the team to turn things around.

Even with the bad start, there are some good things to pick out.

Josiah Wallace

Wallace did not look like himself at the start of the season, but since conference play started, Wallace started scoring like he did last year.

In the conference opener, on the road against Tennessee State, Wallace scored a career-high 32 points, nearly bringing Eastern back for a comeback win.

Wallace is averaging 20.5 points per game so far in conference play.

Wallace is starting to make three-point shots more, and he is starting to drive through defenses more and make those tough shots he became known for last year.

Seeing Wallace get in this form is great, especially since Eastern lost Deang Deang for the rest of the season.

Fun fact: Mack Smith’s streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer made is now up to 65, so Smith is still helping the offense with his shooting.

Opponents’ play inside

Last season, Eastern had a couple players who were around 6-feet 9-inches tall, so the Panthers had options to defend and rebound and score against opposing teams that had similar size.

This season, though, George Dixon is Eastern’s most lethal player inside, in terms of scoring and rebounding, but he can only do so much at 6-feet 5-inches tall.

To his credit, he is averaging 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, but Eastern as a team is at a current rebounding disadvantage against opponents.

In the four conference games so far, Eastern’s opponents are averaging 40 rebounds per game compared to the Panthers’ 34.75 rebounds per game.

On the offensive side of things, Eastern’s opponents are scoring well in the paint, averaging 33.5 points per game inside.

Eastern has good inside defenders and good scoring options inside, but the teams with size have shown early that good size gives Eastern fits.

Belmont has Nick Muszynski, who is nearly 7 feet tall, and Tennessee State had long, tall players that gave Eastern fits.

Late-game performance

This is a conflicting point to break down.

On one hand, Eastern found itself on the receiving end of some late-game runs where the Panthers could not score while opponents were scoring with ease.

On the other hand, Eastern showed it could also claw its way back and make the game close.

Against Tennessee State, Eastern trailed by nine points with roughly two minutes left.

But Eastern found a way to get within three points with six seconds left before losing by five.

With a minute left against Morehead State, the Panthers trailed by nine points, but managed to claw back and only lose by three.

At the same time, Eastern led Morehead State for three-quarters of the game and gave up the lead with five minutes left, which included a 12-0 scoreless run over five of the last six minutes in the game.

Against Morehead State, in the last game out of the first four in OVC play, Eastern turned the ball over with time running out, which negated any chance for a game-tying three-pointer.

This is an issue Eastern had last year, and one that it needs to figure out fast before the conference schedule gets too deep.

Eastern started last season’s conference schedule 5-2 but then went 2-9 to finish OVC play with closing games out being a big factor in the 2-9 turnaround.

Usually, as was the case against Morehead State, Eastern finds itself on a slump within the last eight minutes of the game, in which opponents make a big run to take the lead that Eastern cannot come back from.

Eastern has four straight home games coming up on the schedule, which could very possibly be the thing Eastern needs to turn things around.

But having home-court advantage alone will not help because Eastern does have to play better to get back in the win column, after dropping its last five straight games.

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