Analysis: Film session: Panthers can’t handle scoring runs

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News
Guard George Dixon goes up for a layup in Eastern’s 114-61 win against Indiana Northwest on Nov. 18 at Lantz Arena.

The Daily Eastern News

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News Guard George Dixon goes up for a layup in Eastern’s 114-61 win against Indiana Northwest on Nov. 18 at Lantz Arena.

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

If Eastern’s men’s basketball team wants to get back on track, going 3-1, or 4-0, over the next four games is almost necessary.

With that said, Eastern’s 0-4 start to conference play is not unfamiliar to the Panthers because the things that happened played out last season.

The Panthers got off to a hot start last season in conference play, going 5-2, before finishing the conference season on a 2-9 stretch.

During that 2-9 stretch, which also included a five-game losing streak to end the season, one of the defining factors of Eastern’s losses was giving up late runs to opponents.

Those late runs were too much for Eastern to claw back from, and what also defined those losses was the fact that the Panthers led those games and lost the lead to opponents’ scoring runs.

Enter Eastern’s 69-66 loss to Morehead State Jan. 11.

Eastern lead for the whole game and looked like it would get its first conference win, but with a 58-55 lead with 6:48 left in the game, Eastern found itself in the same situation it was in that losing stretch last season.

Morehead State reeled off a 12-0 run over the next six minutes, and Eastern did not score again until there were 50 seconds left.

With how many times these runs have hurt Eastern, one would think there are some constant factors that are responsible for these game changing stretches late in those games.

And there are.

Offensively, when shots are not falling for Eastern, the Panthers themselves fall hard.

That is not new to this season because it happened last year too. The only difference is that last season, Eastern went on these dry spells because they relied on three-pointers too much; this season, it is a little different.

Looking at the Morehead State game, the Panthers were able to get and maintain the lead because their offense was constantly moving.

A lot of off-ball screens were set by Eastern’s players, and once Morehead State made their run, off-ball screens were not as common. Those screens were effective earlier in the game to get players open for shots, or to keep the ball moving.

In all fairness, Eastern was able to get some good, open shots and they just did not convert them. In fact, Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour said he liked the shots his team got.

“I thought for the most part, shot selection was alright, we got the ball toward the goal in the second half, we got to complete it,” he said. “I thought we got a little panicky, when they made their run at us, we were taking it to the goal, but I wouldn’t say they were necessarily real good shots.”

Eastern’s panic at suddenly trailing showed in its shot selection.

At the start of the run, when Eastern only trailed by a couple baskets, the Panthers were still moving the ball and getting open looks.

But, by the time Morehead started approaching and holding a double-digit lead, the Panthers would take quick, tightly-contested shots just seconds into the half court possession.

When Eastern held the ball longer and got the offense settled in and going, the Panthers moved the ball and create more chances, but when they trailed, the Panthers took those quick shots without establishing the offense and without much movement happening.

“I felt like we were looking around like somebody needs to go make a play, and we were probably forcing it more than relying on each other,” Spoonhour said.

When Eastern is at its best, the ball is moving throughout the halfcourt offense, and, especially, the ball is being kicked into the post to George Dixon, as everyone else moves around for open shots.

During Morehead State’s run, the ball movement did not really center around dumping the ball into the post.

Scoring droughts and runs will happen, but if there is one sure-fire thing that can help Eastern when shots are not falling, it would be to keep the ball moving as much as possible.

What happened against Morehead State happened last season: Players were not moving around as much, and one person would try to score on their own without much passing beforehand.

On the defensive end, Morehead State tore up Eastern inside.

In total, Morehead State scored 38 points in the paint, more than half of their total score (69).

The Panthers defended the three-point line well, holding the Eagles to 2-of-10 from beyond the arc in the game. That statistic helps lead into this next one, though, that Morehead State scored eight of its 12 points in the paint during that decisive run.

Spoonhour said last year, Eastern gave up too many three-pointers to opponents, and recently, the team may have overcommitted to defending the three-point arc.

“We kind of got back to guarding the three, but we didn’t guard the ball enough,” he said.

Two other factors play into this: First, Spoonhour added that Morehead State’s guards were quick and were able to get to the lane well, and second, Deang Deang has been out (and will be out for the rest of the season) due to an Achilles injury.

Deang was clearly Eastern’s best defender, and he was able to force ball handlers in whatever direction he wanted.

With Deang on the court, opposing ball handlers did not get to the lane very well.

But without Deang, Eastern has to find out how to stop ball handlers from zipping to the lane and causing Eastern’s defense headaches.

“If somebody can attack the basket, it doesn’t matter if it’s the postman or somebody driving, they’re going to force you to come off your guys and help,” Spoonhour said. “But we didn’t come off (and help).”

An important stretch of games is ahead for Eastern, as the Panthers host their next four games.

Three of Eastern’s opponents have losing records in conference play (Tennessee-Martin, Southeast Missouri and Tennessee Tech), so cleaning these issues up in these games may be the determining factor for how Eastern finishes out the conference slate.

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