With 1.6 seconds left on the clock, freshman Morgan Litwiller hit two free throws after being fouled on a second-chance opportunity to put Eastern (17-10, 11-5 OVC) ahead by one and collect a 73-72 win over Austin Peay (16-11, 7-9 OVC) at Lantz Arena Saturday on senior day.
Litwiller went to the line after getting an offensive rebound off a missed shot from sophomore Abby Wahl and getting fouled on the putback attempt.
“We had a couple options, so they were looking for a couple players first, but I knew that, no matter what, [head coach Matt Bollant] had talked about that they were a guard-oriented team, so we had a shot at going to the boards every single time,” Litwiller said of the last play. “In the end there, I just thought, ‘I got to get to the boards no matter what just in case my teammate misses the shot.’”
Litwiller led the team in rebounding with seven boards, and she was also one of four Eastern players to reach double-figure scoring with junior Karle Pace posting a game-high 19 points.
The win moves Eastern into fourth place in the Ohio Valley Conference after Tennessee Tech fell to Southeast Missouri 72-59.
The game-deciding free throws came after Wahl hit a jump hook in the paint the previous Panther possession before the Governors hit two free throws of their own to go up by one.
Eastern nabbed the win despite being outshot 61-46, due in large part to Austin Peay turning on and off a full-court pressure that helped cause 30 Panther turnovers.
“Once you start turning over, it’s like a snowball kind of effect,” Bollant said. “We got sped up for sure. I think some of our excitement just to play—senior night, good crowd, all the positives we have going on—and I think we just lacked some composure offensively.
The Governors got back into that full-court pressure partly through the fourth quarter that forced six Panther turnovers in the first 5:16 of the period, to go along with a 13-6 Governor run to claw back to a 60-58 margin.
Litwiller put a stop to that run with a 3-pointer out of a media timeout to put the Panthers back up by two possessions.
Eastern posted a 24-point third quarter in which freshman Lariah Washington, who posted 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting off the bench as senior Jennifer Nehls got the start, scored seven of the team’s first 15 points, including an and-one conversion to tie the game at 37.
From there, the Panthers finished the quarter on a 14-8 run in which the Governors did not make a field goal for the final five minutes.
The third quarter was also the first period that Eastern outshot Austin Peay, attempting 15 shots compared to the Governors’ 12.
In the second quarter, Pace opened with a 3-pointer on the team’s first possession and poured in five of the team’s first seven points in the period.
Austin Peay relaxed its full-court pressure slightly, and the Panthers limited their turnovers to six after opening with 10 in the first quarter, but the Governors still managed to outshoot Eastern by a 35-18 margin in the first half.
The first quarter was much of the same for Eastern, opening with an 8-0 lead 4:38 into the game, but Austin Peay crawled back, forcing eight turnovers and ending the first quarter up 14-11 on just 4-for-20 shooting, while the Panthers managed just seven field goal attempts.
The Panthers are just two road games away from their first OVC tournament appearance since the 2014-2015 season.
“Every game’s different, and today was a war, and it was a battle, and we found a way, and obviously we have two tough road games this week,” Bollant said, “but to finish 7-2 at home in the conference… in a great crowd today which was really fun for our players. I felt like we’re playing good basketball, and obviously there’s a lot of things to get better at, but we’ll enjoy the wins as well.”
Eastern returns to action on Thursday against Southeast Missouri at 5:15 p.m.