Women’s basketball team hosts Murray State Thursday in revenge game

Dillan+Schorfheide+%7C+The+Daily+Eastern+News%0ALariah+Washington+charges+toward+the+basket+during+a+fast+break+in+Eastern%E2%80%99s+67-62+victory+over+Morehead+State+Feb.+8+in+Lantz+Arena.+Eastern+faces+Murray+State+Thursday+in+Lantz+Arena+at+5%3A15+p.m.

The Daily Eastern News

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News Lariah Washington charges toward the basket during a fast break in Eastern’s 67-62 victory over Morehead State Feb. 8 in Lantz Arena. Eastern faces Murray State Thursday in Lantz Arena at 5:15 p.m.

JJ Bullock, Editor-In-Chief

One win for the Eastern women’s basketball team (9-5 OVC) this week and the Panthers will guarantee themselves a conference tournament bid for the first time since the 2014-2014 season.

Two wins for the Panthers this week and Eastern will secure its first 10-plus OVC win season since 2012-2013.

But first Eastern must beat a team that handed it its most disappointing loss of the season: Murray State.

When the Panthers and Murray State (5-9 OVC) met for the first time Jan. 30 Eastern appeared to have the game all locked up late in the fourth quarter, leading the Racers by double-digits.

Murray State clawed back, however, making a last-second shot to force overtime before eventually downing the Panthers in the extra period, 92-87.

It was a game the Panthers wanted back as surely as it was one they would like to forget. Now the same team that gave Eastern its toughest loss of the season is the one standing between Eastern and a guaranteed spot in the conference tournament.

Eastern head coach Matt Bollant says he feels the way Eastern lost to Murray State in January has increased the motivation headed into Thursday night’s rematch.

“I think it’s a little bit easier (to find motivation) when you play somebody who beat you, especially if you feel like maybe you should have beat them,” Bollant said. “You hope (motivation) is higher, but you never know with 18-22-year-olds. But for me its motivation, ‘Hey we didn’t guard these guys, let’s get some stops.’”

Eastern is somewhat lumped into the middle of the OVC standings with no clear direction to go, win or lose. Eastern has a two-game cushion over the six-seed Jacksonville State (7-7 OVC) and is three games behind the three teams tied for first place with 12-2 records. The closest team to Eastern is Tennessee Tech (10-4 OVC).

Eastern’s place in the standings with just four games remaining has been a conversation Bollant and his coaching staff have tried not to have with the players but is one they have had internally.

“Not much with the players at all. With them, they need just enough to focus on this game, but certainly as a staff you look at who you’d like to play,” Bollant said. “Obviously everyone is dangerous, everyone is good. But who do we matchup the best against and let’s finish the best we can and be playing the best basketball we can to be ready.”

Eastern will play Austin Peay (5-9 OVC) Saturday after Murray State, and despite the Panthers’ 29-point victory over the Governors last time they played, Eastern expects the Governors to be better Saturday and knows they are facing a team playing for a conference tournament spot.

“(Austin Peay) is playing for their conference lives as well, so I think they’ll come pretty motivated and certainly they won’t like the way last one went and when they watch film of that game I think they’re going to come pretty motivated,” Bollant said.

The last time Eastern and Murray State faced off, Eastern freshman Lariah Washington scored a career-high 35 points.

Laci Hawthorne had a big game for the Racers, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Murray State’s Alexis Burpo also had a double-double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Eastern and Murray State tip off Thursday at 5:15 p.m. in Lantz Arena.

Saturday’s matchup in Lantz Arena will be senior day for the Panthers, marking the last home game for Eastern’s lone senior Jennifer Nehls. That game tips off at 1 p.m.

Bollant said the team will start Nehls on Saturday and hold something special for her at practice Friday.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]