Eastern women’s basketball beats 1st-place Skyhawks 74-70

Eastern+guard+Karle+Pace+brings+the+ball+up+the+court+against+Tennessee-Martin+Jan.+23+in+Lantz+Arena.+Pace+had+12+points+and+nine+assists+in+the+game%2C+which+the+Panthers+won+74-70.

Karina Delgado | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern guard Karle Pace brings the ball up the court against Tennessee-Martin Jan. 23 in Lantz Arena. Pace had 12 points and nine assists in the game, which the Panthers won 74-70.

JJ Bullock, Editor-In-Chief

For a little while Eastern’s Thursday night matchup in Lantz Arena felt eerily similar to the Panthers’ most recent loss to Tennessee Tech: an undefeated team taking a double-digit lead and seemingly grabbing momentum of a game. But just as quickly as the game felt the same, the Panthers made it completely different, handing Tennessee-Martin its first OVC loss of the season 74-70.  

Freshman Lariah Washington scored 13 points and five total Panthers finished in double-figure scoring, as the Eastern women’s basketball team rallied from a 12-point third quarter deficit to grab its biggest conference win under head coach Matt Bollant.  

The loss to Tennessee Tech was still in the minds of Eastern’s players and getting a win Thursday over an undefeated team, lifted the weight and memory of that loss of Eastern. 

“I think (Tennessee) Tech was still in the back of a lot of our minds, we didn’t want that to happen again and we knew that (Tennessee-Martin) was the best team in our conference and we really wanted to show how we could play,” sophomore forward Abby Wahl said.  

Show they could play Eastern did, and any doubts anyone had about this team after Saturday’s loss to Tennessee Tech were thrown out the window with Eastern upset win over the 6-0 (now 6-1) Skyhawks.  

“We just didn’t want to have the same feeling as last time and we really believed and knew we could do it, so we came out here and played that way,” Washington said.  

Tennessee-Martin came out of the gates firing, taking an early lead over Eastern while giving the Panthers fits playing full-court press defense to open the game. Eastern would take a short-lived lead before halftime only for the Skyhawks to snatch it right back, and head into the locker room up 32-29. 

Eastern was close to the undefeated Skyhawks at halftime, just as they were close to the undefeated Golden Eagles at halftime in its previous game. And almost as though someone hit rewind to Saturday, the Skyhawks went on a big third quarter run, just like Tennessee Tech, that gave them a 12-point lead with 3:15 to play in the quarter.  

Bollant said in this moment he had to remind his team “hey you guys can still do this.” 

It felt like déjà vu. But the Panthers had their most recent loss fresh on the back of their minds and this time changed the script. Sophomore guard Jordyn Hughes scored five of her 10 total points in the waning minutes of the third quarter and sophomore forward Abby Wahl tallied six of her 13. By the time the quarter ended, the Skyhawks lead was cut to just 57-54. 

“I think sometimes you see that run and it’s like ‘oh no here we go again,’ you know especially when you lost to Tech on Saturday,” Bollant said. “But you maybe just try to focus on some detail, we ran some good set plays and got some good shots out of those set plays and I think that helped us as well.” 

Then the fourth quarter came and Eastern grabbed the game and never let go of it. Eastern took the lead back with 8:52 remaining in the game off a Washington layup and never let the undefeated Skyhawks take it back.  

Eastern did to Tennessee-Martin, what Tennessee Tech had done to the Panthers just a game earlier: Tennessee-Martin tried to claw its way back, chopping Eastern’s lead down to one-point with 1:52 to play, but the Panthers, unlike Saturday, hit their big shots when they needed them.  

Sophomore guard Kira Arthofer made a layup with 16 seconds to play, giving Eastern a 72-68 lead, and then freshman Morgan Litwiller stole the ball from the Skyhawks on the next possession. Game sealed for Eastern. 

Bollant, at this moment, was as animated as ever on the Eastern sideline.  

“These kids work so hard so it’s pretty neat,” Bollant said. “It’s a big game for us because just that mental hoop of ‘are we there? Can you beat them? Do you believe?’ And we’re starting two freshman, two sophomores tonight and we know we’re talented, but can you go beat the top team and find a way? And we did that, so that was pretty emotional and exciting for us.” 

Eastern is now 5-2 in OVC play and having just knocked off an undefeated team at home, the Panthers will welcome a 5-2 Southeast Missouri team into Lantz Arena on Saturday. Eastern however is now playing with as much confidence as ever.  

“It feels awesome, I think we really played well today and that just gives us the confidence for the rest of conference play,” Wahl said. “Show people how we can play, they didn’t think so at the beginning of the season, but we’re starting to prove we can play against the best.” 

 

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