Column: Panthers beating up on lower-ranked teams

Adam Tumino, Women’s Basketball Reporter

The Daily Eastern News
Adam Tumino | The Daily Easterns News
Junior guard Karle Pace drives byt a defender in Eastern’s 75-62 loss against Tennessee Tech on Jan. 18 at Lantz Arena.

With just four games remaining in what has been a resurgent season, the fifth-place Eastern women’s basketball team may still be a step behind the four top teams in the OVC.

Against those four teams, the Panthers are just 1-4 on the season, allowing 75.8 points per game and only scoring 62 points per game.

But it is against the conference’s seven other teams where Eastern has truly shown its potential. Against teams below them in the standings, the Panthers are 8-1.

The defense has been much more effective in those games, allowing just 58.7 points per game. The offense also excels against lower teams, averaging 73.3 points per game. Were that the Panthers’ season average, it would be the second highest-scoring offense in the conference, just 0.9 points per game behind Southeast Missouri.

An average margin of defeat of 13.8 points per game against the conference’s top teams is not as close as the team would surely prefer, but beating the teams they should beat by an average of 14.6 points per game is a positive sign.

But those numbers may also be a little misleading as a result of a relatively small sample size.

Two of the Panthers’ losses against the top-four teams both came by 24 points, on Jan. 24 at Belmont and their last game on Feb. 15 at Tennesse-Martin.

In the other three games, Eastern is averaging 67 points per game and allowing 74 for a margin of defeat of just seven points per game. Those three games also came in a row against Tennessee Tech, Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri with the win coming against Tennessee-Martin.

Additionally, Eastern’s lone loss against teams below them in the standings was a 92-87 overtime loss to Murray State in the next game after that challenging three-game stretch.

The Panthers responded to that tough loss by beating Austin Peay by 29 points and Eastern Kentucky by a whopping 47 in their next two games.

All season long the Panthers have shown that they are separating themselves from the pack in the OVC, which is impressive considering they finished in 10th place last season and in last place for three-straight seasons prior to that.

If the trend continues into the Panthers’ final four games, they will go 3-1 and finish with a conference record of 12-6 on the season. It would be their highest conference win total since the 2012-13 season, when they went 12-4 and the OVC was still separated into East and West divisions.

Although the gap may still exist between Eastern and the OVC’s top teams, that gap is closing fast.

And considering that Eastern was picked to finish in 10th place this season in a preseason OVC coaches’ poll, it is closing faster than the rest of the conference anticipated.

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