Column: Eastern still has a chance

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

The Daily Eastern News
Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News
Juniior George Dixon putd up a shot in Eastern’s 76-74 loss against Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Feb. 13 at Lantz Arena.

The only way for the Eastern men’s basketball team to go from here is up.


To go up will be an arduous journey, but it is one the Panthers can do.

Eastern is still tied with Jacksonville State for seventh in the conference, which means they fill the last two spots that can get in the OVC tournament.

That may not be the worst thing in the world, but Eastern’s schedule, compared to the team gnawing at the Panthers’ heels, is daunting.

Eastern hosts Murray State and Austin Peay, the top two teams in the conference, this week. Despite sounding like a terrible thing, it really is not.

Against those teams on the road, Eastern lost by three points to Murray State and lost by four to Austin Peay. In the game against Austin Peay, the Panthers held a lead late in the game but lost it in the final minute.

Eastern also defeated Austin Peay at home last year, but, of course, a game from a year ago and two games weeks ago do not prove that Eastern can pull out a win or two this week.

What will help the Panthers do it is their defense.

Murray State averages 76.8 points per game this year, but Eastern held the Racers to 73 Jan. 30. Eastern held Austin Peay to 68 points, but the Governors average 77.6 per game on the season.

The Panthers have not had a really, truly spectacular defensive game since those two games, so it is time for them to do just that this week. What will hurt Eastern is that Marvin Johnson, who is serving a three-game suspension for violation of team rules, will miss the Murray State game Thursday.

Johnson has been Eastern’s best perimeter defender since December (when Deang Deang, Eastern’s best defender, suffered a season-ending injury), so defeating Murray State and its high-powered offense might be difficult without Johnson’s defensive presence.

Eastern also missed his scoring ability during its last two losses to Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Tennessee-Martin, so he will be able to provide a nice presence come Saturday when Eastern hosts Austin Peay.

Taking everything into account, Eastern will likely win one of the two games this week, more-than-likely the game against Austin Peay, since Johnson will be out for the Murray State game still.

But looking at teams’ schedules broadly, there is no clear-cut way to definitively say which teams, not currently in a playoff spot, could take a playoff spot from Eastern or Jacksonville State.

Tennessee-Martin, Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Tennessee Tech are all 4-10 in conference play, a game back from 5-9 Eastern and Jacksonville State.

Southeast Missouri is last at 3-11, but they could still pull off a miracle with the right dominoes falling.

Tennessee-Martin’s toughest games remaining are games on the road against Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State back-to-back this week. The Skyhawks finish the season at home against Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Southeast Missouri, but all those teams will be fighting to stay alive.

Speaking of the Cougars, Southern Illinois Edwardsville has the toughest remaining schedule, as they face Austin Peay, Murray State, Tennessee-Martin and Eastern (in that order) to close out the year. The Cougars’ one saving grace may be the fact that the games against the Governors, Racers and Panthers are all home games.

Tennessee Tech hosts Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri this week, which is good for the Golden Eagles, but then they have to end the season on the road against Belmont and Jacksonville State.

And lastly, Southeast Missouri has three of its final games on the road (against Jacksonville State, Tennessee-Martin and Tennessee Tech), so the Redhawks’ chances look slim.

Their other game is at home against Eastern, so you can see how the bottom half of the conference is going to be duking it out (mainly against each other) down the stretch to fight for playoff contention.

It is going to be a fun, jumbled mess that will be entertaining to follow.

Even Eastern’s final two games are on the road, first against the Redhawks (who Eastern beat by two points at home) and the Cougars (who Eastern lost two by two points at home).

Considering the Panthers have not won a road conference game yet this season, that makes getting a win this week all the more important for their chances of making the postseason.

As it stands now, Eastern will likely end up as the seven or eight seed, if the Panthers make the tournament. Jacksonville State may end up as the seven seed because they have three home games left, all against teams below them in the standings.

If Eastern plays well enough and wins two or three games down the stretch, the Panthers could steal the six seed from Morehead State.


Because Morehead State hosts Belmont and Tennessee State this week, then closes out the regular season by visiting Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky. All four teams are ahead of Morehead State right now, and Belmont, Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky are three of the top four teams in the conference.

These last two weeks of the season show why a team’s schedule is an important thing to take note of because, as is usually the case, these last two weeks will determine who, out of the bottom half of the conference, will make the conference tournament and at what seed.

The final games also show that despite all of Eastern’s shortcomings this season, it still has a chance, a fair chance at that, to at least make the conference tournament.

Because of their shortcomings, this is when the Panthers can show us and the conference if they have what it takes to learn from their mistakes and earn the right to compete in March.


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