Men’s basketball ends 5-game losing streak


JJ Bullock | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern forward Jordan Skipper-Brown goes up for a layup against Jacksonville State Jan. 16 in Lantz Arena. Eastern won the game 70-69 for their first conference win of the season.

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

Shades of last season were prevalent through the first 30 minutes of the Eastern men’s basketball team’s game Thursday night, which also might have been the best defensive stretch Eastern has played this season so far.

That defensive pressure carried over into the second half, as Eastern (8-9, 1-4 OVC) barely held on to earn its first conference win of the season, defeating Jacksonville State (7-11, 2-3 OVC) 70-69.

Of course, though, Eastern could not get a big lead without nearly surrendering it, as Jacksonville State made a run late in the second half to scare the Panthers.

Even at the end of the game, Jacksonville State’s season-leading scorer, De’Torrion Ware, missed a layup that would have won the game for Jacksonville State, so Eastern’s defensive fortitude for the first 30 minutes of the game may have been just enough for Eastern to hold on for the victory.

Josiah Wallace and Mack Smith lead Eastern in scoring in the first half with nine points each, though Smith did not make a three-pointer in the first half. 

Despite making Eastern fans hold their breath for so long, Smith made a three-pointer with 10:53 left in the second half, extending his streak of consecutive games with a made three-pointer to 66.

Wallace was dribbling and driving to the basket like Eastern fans were used to seeing last year, and Smith knocked down some nifty fadeaway shots in the post with some free throws mixed in.

Wallace has been a force on offense recently, averaging 20.4 points per game in Eastern’s five conference games, after averaging approximately six points per game during the initial opening stretch of the season.

“I think everyone goes through a slump sometimes, and mine happened the first however many games, nine games, 10 games, whatever it was, but really, you know, sticking with it, doing what the team needs me to do to help us win,” Wallace said.

Defense is what really stood out for Eastern in the first half, though, as the Panthers held Jacksonville State to 25 points on 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) shooting from the field (1-of-7 from three-point range).

Getting steals and subsequent transition/fast break points has never been a standout part of Eastern’s game, but in a three-and-a-half minute span late in the first half, Eastern got three steals (nearly a fourth) and converted two of them into fast break layups.

For the game, Eastern had eight steals.

Kashawn Charles alone had three steals in the first half, while nearly causing another Gamecock turnover.

“Tonight we just really wanted this win, we just really needed this win, having the first four (conference games) on the road was really tough on us,” Charles said of Eastern’s tough defense for most of the game. 

At the start of the game, both teams were playing stellar perimeter defense, as no three-point shots were taken yet until four minutes into the game. 

Both teams were getting inside fairly well, and the Panthers got some help from Jacksonville State, who missed approximately seven or eight fairly open shots close to the basket.

Eastern itself shot 2-of-10 from three-point range in the first half, a testament to Jacksonville State’s tough defense. 

Overall, though, Eastern shot 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) from the field in the first half, and the shots the Panthers were able to find on drives and cuts to the basket, or post-ups, were the difference.

Eastern’s defense kept Jacksonville State at bay through the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Gamecocks gave Eastern a run (literally) for its money.

The Panthers gained their first double-digit lead of the game with 14:26 left in the second half, and for the next four-and-a-half minutes, they kept their lead above 10, eventually gaining a 57-42 lead with 9:43 left in the game (biggest lead of the game).

But Jacksonville State quickly countered with an 11-point run before Shareef Smith sank a mid-range jump shot to quell the run.

Shareef Smith played a big role in helping Eastern keep its lead down the stretch, as he scored all eight of his points during Jacksonville State’s comeback that continued down to the final buzzer.

Jacksonville State’s second-leading scorer on the season, Jacara Cross, had four fouls during Jacksonville State’s comeback, but he helped lead the charge.

Cross scored nine points from the time the Gamecocks started their 11-0 run, but he ultimately fouled out with 2:26 left in the game.

Jacksonville State’s size advantage inside stood out as a big reason as to why the Gamecocks were able to make a near-complete comeback.

“That’s because they get lay-ins,” said Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour. “And then some crazy bounces, which is just a typical karma deal when you’re trying to get out of a funk.”

After shooting 26.7 percent from the field in the first half, the Gamecocks shot 60 percent from the field in the second half. In total, they scored 38 points in the paint and out rebounded Eastern 37-32, while scoring 17 second-chance points.

Even though the Gamecocks lost their game-leading scorer in Cross (18 points), they still kept clawing at Eastern’s lead until the final buzzer.

This is a trend Eastern has suffered since last season, where the Panthers were able to get a big lead but surrendered it late in the second half to an opponent’s big run.

With the win, Eastern snapped a five-game losing streak and remained undefeated at home on the season (4-0).

The Panthers host Tennessee Tech Saturday, which is the second game of Eastern’s four-game home stretch that goes into next week.


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