Strong 1st half fuels Panthers in win against Eagles

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Strong 1st half fuels Panthers in win against Eagles

Eastern guard Josiah Wallace drives under the basket against Morehead State on Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Wallace had 25 points in the game, which the Panthers won 71-65.

Eastern guard Josiah Wallace drives under the basket against Morehead State on Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Wallace had 25 points in the game, which the Panthers won 71-65.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern guard Josiah Wallace drives under the basket against Morehead State on Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Wallace had 25 points in the game, which the Panthers won 71-65.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern guard Josiah Wallace drives under the basket against Morehead State on Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Wallace had 25 points in the game, which the Panthers won 71-65.

Vince Lovergine, Men's Basketball Reporter

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The Eastern men’s basketball team came out strong in the first half Saturday evening against Morehead State and held on late, topping the Eagles, 71-65.

That moves Eastern to 12-12 overall and snaps a three-game losing streak. For Morehead State, they fall to 12-13 and 6-6 in the OVC.

The Panthers came out strong, not surrendering the lead throughout the first half, building a lead as big as 16.

Josiah Wallace sparked Eastern with 16 first-half points and going 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. He tallied a game high 25 points and eight rebounds, shooting 10-of-22 from the field.

One thing Wallace said before the Eastern Kentucky game Thursday was the team needed to clean up the turnovers. That wasn’t translated into the game with the Panthers committing 16 turnovers.

In the first half alone against the Eagles, Eastern turned it over just four times compared to the Golden Eagles nine. Eastern finished the game with only nine turnovers.

Eastern struggled late down the stretch in the second half, as Morehead State brought the lead back down to seven after being down double digits from 15:54 in the first half until 12:51 left in the second.

The Eagles had a lot of good looks at the rim, which speaks for the 16 second-chance points. But Morehead State only shot 35 percent from the field.

Eastern’s Mack Smith moved into a tie for second all-time in NCAA Division I history with Virginia Tech’s Wally Lancaster with 73 straight games with making at least one three-pointer.

Eastern did a nice job of locking down Jordan Walker in the first half, holding him to 1-of-7 from the field and totaling seven points. He finished the game 1-of-11 and went 4-5 from the free throw line. Walker went scoreless in the second half and fouled out in the closing seconds of the game.

Walker was having fits with Mack Smith guarding him the majority of the game, and that’s been Smith’s responsibility more this season, taking away an opponent’s best player.

“Coach always tells us the story of Mack coming to campus and playing one-one-one and he couldn’t guard anybody and now he’s guarding the best player every night,” Wallace said. “It just a testament to the work Mack has put in and we played much better team defense tonight.”

Wallace had an opportunity to seal the game with two free throws with 49 seconds and 33 seconds left, but missed both. However, as head coach Jay Spoonhour said it, it’s not all bad when you think about it.

“Missed free throws are never good and guys are trying to make them,” Spoonhour said. “If you’re going to have to choose between something disastrous at the end, you choose missed free throws because at least they have to change ends and kills a little time. We did a good job with getting the ball in and not turning it over. That’s the important thing.”

Eastern was more active on the glass in this game and clogging up the paint, despite George Dixon and Jordan Skipper-Brown both being in foul trouble for a large amount of the game. Dixon only played 14 minutes in the contest.

Morehead State outrebounded Eastern 48-36 and JaQualis Matlock made his presence felt totaling nine rebounds, tying Jordan Skipper-Brown with nine, but Matlock had six offensive rebounds.

This could be argued as one of the bigger games for the Panthers to nab that victory, and now welcome Southern Illinois Edwardsville next Thursday to Lantz Arena where Eastern is now 8-1. The Cougars come in at 6-19 and 2-12 on the road.

 

Vince Lovergine can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]