Eastern wins defensive battle 55-52 over Gamecocks


Karina Delgado | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern guard Karle Pace goes up for a layup in the Panthers 55-52 win over Jacksonville State Thursday night in Lantz Arena. Pace led Eastern with 14 points in the win.

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

Both teams knew baskets were going to be hard to come by in Eastern’s OVC home opener against Jacksonville State Thursday night in Lantz Arena, but neither team probably could have guessed they would combine for just 38 baskets on 122 attempts in a 55-52 Eastern win.  

Eastern came into the game as the OVC’s top defense, allowing just 58.5 points per game and Jacksonville State entered the game having boasted the best defense in the conference the last five seasons. And when tip-off occurred Thursday night, it showed that neither team was going to surrender points easily 

Jacksonville State finished the game shooting just 27 percent from the field, giving Eastern its third game in a row in which it held an opponent to under 40 percent shooting. The key stat from the game however was Jacksonville State’s abysmal three-point shooting, which saw the Gamecocks go just 11-of-45 from beyond the arc.  

They shot a lot of threes and they’re not really a three-point shooting team,” said junior guard Karle Pace. “So, we kind of, with our buzz (defense), we made them take quick threes and I know one of their players made five, but other than that I thought we did pretty good on the threes.” 

Pace led Eastern with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Freshman guard Lariah Washington added nine. 

Eastern head coach Matt Bollant said the key to forcing Jacksonville State to take so many threes was stopping them from penetrating. 

“A lot of the threes were passes from the top to the wing which I think is a little tougher three so we probably got them to shoot a little more of the tougher threes,” Bollant said. “They did hit a couple of corner threes where they’re looking at the basket but overall I felt like we did a decent job, we can be better but I wouldn’t have guessed coming in that they’d shoot 45 threes.” 

Eastern started the game shooting hot, finishing the first quarter at 54.5 percent from the field while holding Jacksonville State to just 15.8 percent in the quarter. But after that Jacksonville State’s defense buckled down and held the Panthers to under 38.5 percent in every other quarter. 

“I looked at the first half and we shot a fairly good percentage, but we just didn’t get very many offensive rebounds, didn’t get many easy shots and give them credit for that because it just felt like nothing came easy today,” Bollant said. “Give Jacksonville State credit for that.” 

The win propelled Eastern to 4-1 in OVC play and dropped Jacksonville State to 2-3. 4-1 marks the Panthers best start in conference play in a long time and for this group of players especially who have seen just seven total conference wins in the last two seasons, a 4-1 start is certainly something to be happy about.  

“It feels really good to get wins,” Pace said. “Just coming from high school and winning games to here, I knew it was going to take time and it was process, you can’t just come in and turn things around right away. I knew we were going to get better I just had to have faith. And now that it’s here we still have to earn it, we still have to come out every day and practice hard and play hard. So, it’s just a process.” 

There was no underselling how important Eastern’s homestand will be, which began with the win over Jacksonville State, and now the Panthers head into a Saturday matchup against first place Tennessee Tech (5-0) in what will be the Panthers biggest conference game in three years under Bollant.  

“We have to play well, give Tech credit they’re a really good basketball team,” Bollant said. “I think the one thing they have gotten better defensively. Last year they could really score the ball and now this year they are guarding you better and so we are going to have to play well on both sides of the court. Hopefully the community will come out to have a 4-1 team against a 5-0 and hopefully they’re excited about that.” 


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