Smith, Wallace, defense flourish in win

Blake Faith, Men's Basketball Reporter

The Daily Eastern News
Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News
Junior Mack Smith shooting a three-point shot in Eastern’s 71-65 win against Morehead State on Feb. 8 at Lantz Arena.

Eastern’s men’s basketball team regained their home court advantage, after losing against Eastern Kentucky, by defeating Morehead State 71-65 Feb. 8. 

The scoring abilities of juniors Josiah Wallace and Mack Smith, along with the Panther defense, were all factors in the win.

Wallace picked up right where he finished the Eastern Kentucky game by getting himself scoring opportunities. Wallace started the game with 3-of-3 shooting from the three-point line, drove to the rim for layups or used his mid-range game to score. 

Wallace scored 15 of the Panthers’ first 24 points to help give the Panthers a 24-12 lead over the Eagles. Wallace finished the game with a game-high 25 points.

“I think at the beginning of the year I was in a slump especially from the three-point line,” Wallace said. “We’ve been shooting a lot after practice and its been helping me get back in the rhythm. I’ve been having my opportunities tonight in transition or coming off the dribble and when they fall down it feels good.”

The Panther defense then did their part by protecting the rim and making the Eagles turn the ball over. 

Junior Jordan Skipper-Brown had a quiet scoring game, but came to the Panthers’ help by blocking two shots in the first half and making it hard for the Eagles’ offense to get points in the paint. 

The Panther defense held the Morehead State offense to 10-of-31 shooting in the first half and lead 40-30 to end the first half. 

Smith’s defense was more evident in the win, but his offense was far from quiet. Smith ended the first half going 1-of-5 from the field by making only one three-pointer to tie him second all-time in NCAA history with 73 consecutive games with a three-pointer made. 

Smith, however, flourished in his defensive matchup against the Eagles’ leading scorer Jordan Walker. Smith and the Panther defense held Walker to 1-of-11 shooting, 4-of-5 from the free-throw line, and only eight points for the entire game. 

“Once my first one goes down it always feels good,” Smith said. “At the end of the day I have to play with my teammates and have a game to win. I have to share the ball and it’s not just about me shooting the ball.”

Smith continued, “I have to get Josiah (Wallace) some shots and post the ball up to George (Dixon), Q (Jaqualis Matlock), and Skip (Skipper-Brown). Most importantly I have to defend the best player so I take pride in that.”

Smith, late in the second half, began to find ways to score when the Panthers needed offense. 

Morehead State began chipping at Eastern’s lead late in the second half by cutting the lead to 55-50. Smith then drove the ball to the basket, making a left-handed layup and made a three-pointer that put the Panthers up 60-52.

“We needed that bucket when he stepped up and made that three,” head coach Jay Spoonhour said. “It was a good play by George to skip that pass to him, but we really needed a basket then. We were having a hard time and that’s just having some guts.”

The Panthers held on to win 71-65 improving their overall record to 12-12 and conference record to 5-7. The Panthers currently are in seventh place in the OVC standings. 

The Eagles fall to 6-6 in conferecne play and an overall record of 12-13. The Eagles currently are in sixth-place in the OVC standings. 

Eastern’s men’s basketball team will finish off their three-game home stand against 10th-place Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Lantz Arena.

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