3 things to build on for men’s basketball

Blake Faith, Men's Basketball Reporter

After starting conference play 0-4, the Eastern men’s basketball team won all four games of a homestand to improve to 11-9 overall and 4-4 in conference play.

There are things that if the Panthers continue to do well, they will keep their momentum going this week against the top two OVC teams, Murray State and Austin Peay, on the road, but there are also other things that if done wrong can snap the momentum.

Share the ball

The Panthers, in their double-digit conference wins against Tennessee Tech and Tennessee-Martin, combined for 22 assists as a team.

Whether it was making an extra pass, throwing an alley-oop, finding a cutter or throwing the ball to the paint, the Panthers found each other and it resulted in putting points on the scoreboard.

In those two wins the Panthers’ players smiled and seemed to look loose in the way they played while collecting two wins.

In the two single-digit wins the Panthers only combined for 16 assists total as a team.

Inside of those games the Panthers turned the ball over more than making a pass count. Eastern seemed to rush the attack by dribbling into tight pressure, passing into cluttered areas or playing too careless with the basketball.

Against Southeast Missouri Jan. 25, senior Shareef Smith and junior Marvin Johnson combined for nine of the Panthers’ 14 total turnovers. Their turnovers were mostly passing turnovers or dribbling into tight coverage.

So while the Panthers escaped with a victory over Southeast Missouri, head coach Jay Spoonhour stated afterwards that if those mistakes are made against Austin Peay and Murray State this week, those games and momentum will slip away fast.

Mack Smith and Kashawn Charles shooting the ball

Juniors Mack Smith and Kashawn Charles had good games in the homestand, but also found themselves in shooting slumps or lacking shot attempts. 

In Eastern’s two close losses Mack Smith only made one three-pointer, but he found other ways to score by making free throws, making mid-range shots and utilizing his ability to get to the rim and finish.

Despite the slumps he averaged 15.8 points per game and extended his streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer made to 69 games.

Charles had a team-high against Tennessee Tech when he shot the ball 5-of-8 from the three-point line and used his acrobatic finishing ability to score 23 points.

During other games of the homestand Charles had quieter nights with less minutes and less opportunities to score. Spoonhour has said previously that Charles’ continued improvement on defense will give him the opportunity to get more minutes, but while he’s in the game he needs to take the shots when he gets them and make them count.

Follow Dixon’s defensive lead

The Panthers might have found their new defensive workhorse and general in junior George Dixon during the homestand. Due to the injury of Deang Deang, who is out for the season, the Panthers have been without a defensive leader on the floor.

Dixon from start-to-finish provides the defensive presence that the Panthers need to keep their momentum going.

Dixon’s ability to steal the ball and protect the rim were evident in the homestand and in particular against Southeast Missouri as he stole the ball three times, blocked two shots and protected the rim without fouling.

When Dixon is able to do those things, along with rebounding the basketball, the Panthers become more dangerous as he is able to find an outlet pass to one of the Panther guards, and either the guards find the open man or Dixon integrates himself in the offense by getting himself into a position to get into the paint and score or get free throw opportunities.

If the Panthers continue to do these things their chance of gaining one or two wins on the road becomes a better possibility. If the Panthers fail to do these things their chances worsen.

 

Blake Faith can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]