Analysis: By the numbers: Eastern improved this season

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

The Daily Eastern News
Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News
Guard Josiah Wallace looks to shoot the ball in Eastern’s 61-59 win against Southeast Missouri on Jan. 25 at Lantz Arena.

Despite some ups and downs, and some harmful tendencies that returned from last season, the men’s basketball team has improved this year and looks to have a good season ahead of it still.

The positive sign is that the improvements are on things that the team needed to work on after last season because those issues kept Eastern from competing with other teams, mainly too much of a reliance on three-point shooting and defense not being strict enough.

These are the statistics from this season that show how much Eastern has improved on both sides of the ball.


Eastern is making 6.8 three-point shots per game this season, compared to 8.5 last season.

While it may seem backward to say that a lower number is better this year, it truly is. Too many times last season, Eastern would finish a game (sometimes wins as well as losses) with approximately 15 missed three-point attempts.

The Panthers did not have a really good post player to dump the ball in to, and the Panthers would fall back on shooting threes because they could not rely on getting inside the lane consistently.

This season, George Dixon has been a force inside, averaging 12.7 points per game (mainly scoring inside), and his additional passing ability in the post has lifted a burden from Eastern’s shoulders.

The Panthers are able to move around more and get more opportunities in and around the lane, making three-pointers less of a necessity and more of an added bonus during games.

Even if the Panthers have a bad night shooting from three-point range, it does not hurt them as much this year, since they have options to score elsewhere; last season, if Eastern was not shooting well, it did not have much else to rely on.


To refer back to Eastern’s three-point shooting last year, seeing the Panthers have more steals in a game than three-point shots made would have been weird and felt out-of-place.

This season, that happens to be the norm: Eastern averages 7.8 steals per game, which is also fairly more than last season’s average of 6.3.

Eastern’s defense has improved overall, but especially on the perimeter.

Even with the loss of Deang Deang, who was Eastern’s best perimeter defender until suffering a season-ending injury in December, the Panthers have picked up the work well.

Eastern’s guards are defending their marks on the perimeter more tightly, sometimes too tightly, and they are staying in front of them better.

Teams are not getting to the lane as easy, and in general, Eastern’s help defense is not over committing or getting too jumbled.

Eastern’s hands are more active, too, and the Panthers are holding opponents to shooting 34.1 percent from three-point range currently, fairly better than opponents’ 38.4 percent from three-point range last season.

And leading the charge in the steals category are two newcomers to Eastern this season: Marvin Johnson and Dixon.

Dixon and Johnson are eighth and ninth in the conference, respectively, with steals per game as each are averaging 1.4 steals per game.

Johnson’s length and quickness help him nab passes and the ball away from ball handlers, and Dixon is good at reading passes that come into or around the lane.


Sure, everyone knows about Mack Smith’s three-point shooting and the streak he currently has of making a three-pointer in 69 straight games.

But what people do not always talk about is Smith’s ability to score aside from three-pointers.

Smith has shown this season that he can make mid-range jump shots well, and he has capitalized on Dixon’s post passing to get a lot of scoring chances on layups or shots around the lane.

Aside from his accomplishment of the three-point streak, Smith is 18 points away from another major accomplishment: 1,000 career points.

Smith is shooting free throws better this season (73.1 percent compared to 68.8 percent last season), and he is making 2.4 three-pointers per game this season, compared to his average of 2.53 last season.

While that average is not significantly lower, all those statistics show that his three-pointers alone are not defining him as a scorer this season; he also leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.2 points per game with 264 points scored this season.

As a side note, Smith’s defense has improved this season, too, as Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour has said multiple times this season that he is impressed with how Smith has gotten better at defending.

The Panthers are not perfect by any means, but these statistics show that Eastern has made some necessary improvements that have helped the team this season.

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