Column: Defense fueling Panthers’ success

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

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Do not look now at the OVC women’s basketball standings, but… well actually go ahead and look now because what you’d see at the top of the standings is something that has not been there in a long time: The Eastern women’s basketball team.

The Panthers are off to a 3-1 start in conference play and are currently third in the conference standings. It is early in the season, yes, but the Panthers have not had a winning season in OVC play since 2013 and all three of the Panthers conference wins have come on the road, Eastern had three conference road wins between 2016 and 2019 combined.

It is obviously still very early in the season, and four conference games is a small sample size to use in judging a team, but these three OVC wins without question show that Eastern is taking steps forward as a program.

Two of the Panthers’ three wins came against Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State, two teams expected to be at the bottom of the conference at season’s end, but it may be the road win over Morehead State that paints a clearer picture of who Eastern is in the conference.

The win over Morehead State tells the rest of the conference that Eastern is no longer going to be a doormat in the conference; this Panthers’ team appears ready to square up against anyone in the conference confidently.

If the three conference wins in the first four games is not enough to change minds about the Panthers, then I am sure the team would love to show that is currently boasts the conference’s top defense, holding teams to just 58.5 points per game.

Eastern has a chance to further prove itself this weekend when Jacksonville State comes to Lantz Arena on Thursday, followed by a huge matchup with Tennessee Tech on Saturday at home.

Jacksonville State is 2-2 in conference play, but for years has been the OVC’s top defensive team. Eastern can make a huge statement on Thursday by beating them at their own game and taking the throne as the conference’s best defensive team.

Saturday will be the real test, however, when first-place Tennessee Tech (4-0 OVC) comes into Lantz Arena.

A win against Jacksonville State on Thursday would be a nice look for Eastern, but a win on Saturday would be priceless.

Eastern wants to be believed by the rest of the OVC that it has turned a corner as a program, and a win Saturday would show exactly that.

It is still early, and Eastern is coming up against a stretch of teams that will test exactly where the program stands in 2020, but after four games, it is looking like Eastern is finally climbing out of the OVC cellar and into relevancy again.

 

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]