The Eastern men’s basketball team squared off with Austin Peay on Saturday at Lantz Arena, and the Governors came with two of the top scorers in the conference, junior Terry Taylor and freshman Jordyn Adams.
The duo brought a combined eight OVC Player of the Week and eight OVC Freshman of the Week honors into the affair, posted 57 points on 34 field goal attempts, but perhaps most importantly, left with a loss.
“I had this saying growing up: cut the head off the snake. It looked like they both had pretty good games, but everybody else on our team just stayed together and played together and just pulled it out,” senior JaQualis Matlock said.
Although Matlock was referring to the two conference stars, that sentiment seems to be true of Eastern’s recent two-game stretch, dethroning the top team in the OVC twice in one week after the win over Austin Peay and a 27-point second-half comeback against Murray State on Thursday.
Heading into the final homestand of the regular season, Eastern sat at 5-9 in OVC play, losers of five of the team’s last six games, and in serious danger of missing out on the conference postseason.
The Panthers aren’t out of the woods yet, but with two road games against the two teams in the cellar of the OVC, Eastern may be hitting its stride at just the right time to make some more noise than any onlooker would have expected as recently as Wednesday.
Head coach Jay Spoonhour said when talking to his team, “when you’re down, you sort of start to feel like you’re always going to be down, and that’s just not the case. I said it never runs like that, not all the time. We’ve had some terrible bad luck, we’ve done some things to cause our own bad luck, and you got to fix it, but things don’t roll the same way all the time.”
Right now, Eastern is rolling in the right direction, and it goes much further than a box score can indicate.
Adams’ 31 points came with 5-for-7 3-point shooting, but he was unable to convert on two of the most important possessions of the game: a missed layup at the end of regulation that would have won the game, defended by junior Marvin Johnson, and another missed layup in overtime, also defended by Johnson, leaving 4.9 seconds on the clock and giving Eastern free throws at the other end.
The Panthers have tough, close losses on their resume, and two big wins do not erase those, but it proves that the Eastern men’s basketball team can step up when needed, and that mentality will be critical if the teams gets the chance to travel to Evansville, Indiana for the OVC tournament in under two weeks.
If the Panthers make it there, they’ve proven that every team has to take them seriously.
Oscar Rzodkiewicz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]