Analysis: Eastern made important plays in win

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

Brian Barrett | The Daily Eastern News
Freshman Morgan Litwiller drives past a defender in Eastern’s 73-72 win against Austin Peay on Feb. 22 at Lantz Arena.

It looked like a heavyweight boxing match between top contenders, with one team landing a blow as the other returned the favor just seconds after.

Eastern head coach Matt Bollant certainly thought so, likening the women’s basketball team’s 73-72 victory over Austin Peay Feb. 22 to a bout in the ring.

The Governors constantly applied pressure to Eastern, whether it be through a full court press or making a much-needed shot, but the Panthers made the right plays down the stretch to secure a spot in the OVC Tournament.

Considering the amount of turnovers the Panthers finished the game with, it could have easily happened that Eastern made the wrong plays at the end of the game and lost, but a few key plays helped Eastern escape on their own home court.

Most obviously, Morgan Litwiller had the biggest play of them all: Grabbing an offensive rebound with under five seconds left and getting fouled on the putback, which led to her sinking two free throws to give Eastern the 73-72 lead with 1.4 seconds left.

But Litwiller made a big play before then.

With six minutes to go, Eastern led 60-53, but Austin Peay scored five quick points over the next minute to bring themselves to within two points.

It seemed like the momentum shifted to Austin Peay’s favor a little bit, but Litwiller shut it down in Eastern’s next possession, after Brandi Ferby’s free throws brought the Governors to within two.

Karle Pace tried to drive to the lane, but as Eastern encountered most of the day, she could not get around Austin Peay’s tight defense.

Instead, she was able to dump it off the Litwiller, who shifted to the top of the three-point arc behind Pace and nailed a three-pointer.

The three stopped Austin Peay’s momentum and gave Eastern a little breathing room in the fourth quarter. It was only Litwiller’s fifth point at the time, but it was a big three-pointer.

Another three-point shot earlier in the game was a big shot, and this time it came from the lone senior on senior day: Jennifer Nehls.

Nehls is a career 23.3 percent three-point shooter, but she was perfect against Austin Peay (1-1), which came at an important time for Eastern.

Eastern trailed 30-27 out of halftime, and Austin Peay opened the half on a 5-2 run. But two minutes in, after the 5-2 run, Nehls found herself wide open on the wing and nailed a three-pointer.

The three-pointer kept Eastern down by just three (35-32), which was helpful because the Governors scored another basket right afterward. Nehls’ three-pointer helped calm the Governors’ attack out of halftime, giving Eastern a little room to work with to retake the lead just two minutes later.

Eastern did not need the win to secure a spot in the OVC Tournament (it did that Thursday), but the Panthers did take fourth place in the conference with the win.

It was a tough game from both sides, and the way Eastern made big plays and fought against the Governors’ defensive pressure throughout is indicative of a team ready to fight in the tournament.

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