Column: Improved defense defining Panthers’ success

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Column: Improved defense defining Panthers’ success

Eastern freshman Lariah Washington guards an opponent at the top of the key against Morehead State Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Washington had 11 points and three steals in a 67-62 overtime win for the Panthers.

Eastern freshman Lariah Washington guards an opponent at the top of the key against Morehead State Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Washington had 11 points and three steals in a 67-62 overtime win for the Panthers.

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Eastern freshman Lariah Washington guards an opponent at the top of the key against Morehead State Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Washington had 11 points and three steals in a 67-62 overtime win for the Panthers.

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Eastern freshman Lariah Washington guards an opponent at the top of the key against Morehead State Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Washington had 11 points and three steals in a 67-62 overtime win for the Panthers.

Adam Tumino, Reporter

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The resurgent season for the Eastern women’s basketball team has been due to an improvement in many categories, but perhaps no category has improved as much or as importantly as defense.

The Panthers have earned as many conference wins this season as they had in the last two seasons combined and have already surpassed their 2018-19 overall win total by three, but are only averaging 1.9 more points per game this season. 

In fact, the Panthers actually have a lower shooting percentage and three-point percentage than they had a season ago. 

They are still an effective team on offense, ranking fifth in the OVC points per game, fourth in field goal percentage and second in three-point percentage, but defense has been what has fueled them.

Eastern is surrendering 6.5 fewer points per game than it did last season, the biggest improvement in scoring defense in the OVC from last season to this one, and is allowing just 60.5 points per game this season, the second-fewest in the conference behind Belmont.

This has come in a season where eight of the twelve teams in the conference are allowing fewer points than a season ago, but no team has improved as much as the Panthers. 

Eastern is holding their opponents to a .374 shooting percentage this season after allowing them to shoot .424 last season. Eastern’s opponents are also shooting .290 from three-point range this season, dropping from .321.

The most tangible way to see Eastern’s improved defense is in the turnover department. The Panthers lead the conference in steals. Averaging 10.7 per game. This is 0.6 steals above second-place Tennessee-Martin and a 0.9 increase from last season. 

The Panthers also are second in the OVC in turnover margin at +3.96 per game, an increase of 1.86 per game. This number had been increased over the last two games.

On Feb. 6 against Eastern Kentucky the Panthers forced 25 turnovers and only committed 15.

The next game against Morehead State on Feb. 8, Eastern forced 25 turnovers once again, this time only committing 12. 

Junior guard Karle Pace ranks third in the conference with 2.1 steals per game and sophomore guard Kira Arthofer is tied for sixth averaging 1.9. Eastern joins Southeast Missouri as the only teams with two players in the top seven in the OVC in steals per game. 

Led by Arthofer and Pace, the Panthers’ perimeter defense can be suffocating at times, especially in the last two games. 

Freshmen Lariah Washington and Morgan Litwiller add defensive presence as well. Players coming off the bench, like Jordyn Hughes and Jennifer Nehls, have also made big defensive plays this season. 

This improved defense along with a slightly higher-scoring offense has helped propel the Panthers to fifth place in the OVC, which would be their highest position since the 2012-13 season.

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]