Panthers grab back-to-back upset wins

Members+of+the+Eastern+men%27s+basketball+team+%28from+left%29+Shawn+Wilson%2C+Josiah+Wallace%2C+Kashwan+Charles+and+JaQualis+Matlock+celebrate+an+83-80+overtime+win+against+Austin+Peay+Feb.+22+in+Lantz+Arena.+

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News

Members of the Eastern men's basketball team (from left) Shawn Wilson, Josiah Wallace, Kashwan Charles and JaQualis Matlock celebrate an 83-80 overtime win against Austin Peay Feb. 22 in Lantz Arena.

Blake Faith, Men's Basketball Reporter

The Eastern men’s basketball team had its fair share of close games prior to last week that were within single digits.

In the result of those outcomes, the Panthers were not expected to defeat two first-place teams in the course of a week and were expected to rely on their last two games in OVC play. The Panthers wrote their own script as they defeated Murray State and Austin Peay at Lantz Arena to clinch as soon as Thursday, a trip to the 2020 OVC Tournament.

Prior to last week, the Panthers lost close games against Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Tennessee-Martin. Against Southern Illinois Edwardsville, the Panthers clawed their way back into the game but fell short in a 76-74 home loss.

Against Tennessee-Martin, Eastern found itself on the other end with the Skyhawks coming back to win on an overtime three-point buzzer-beater 80-79.

With two close losses and the next two games against the two top-teams in the OVC, the Panthers were undoubtedly the underdogs in both games.

On Feb. 20, Eastern hosted Murray State in Lantz Arena. In the first half, the Panthers were down 32-17 with their leading-scorer junior Josiah Wallace held to zero points. In the second half, the Panthers were down 27 with 11:45 left in the game.

Wallace scored all 20 of his points in the second half including the game-winning three-pointer with two seconds left in the game.

The game was the opening story on ESPN’s Sportscenter at midnight, and head Coach Jay Spoonhour stated Feb. 22 in the post-game press conference that there would be no good luck comments to the team on Friday for the Feb. 22 game against Austin Peay.

Instead, the comments would have been more celebratory of their win against Murray State.

On Feb. 22, Eastern hosted Austin Peay, its second top-place OVC opponent in a two-day span.

The Governors have arguably the best player in the OVC in Terry Taylor, who leads the conference in scoring and rebounding, but the situation was similar indeed, especially in the 11-minute mark of the second half.

The Panthers were down 13 to the Governors at that point. The Governors’ two leading scorers of Taylor (26) and Jordyn Adams (31) combined for 57 of the Governors’ 80 points.

The Panthers again clawed their way back into the game behind the scoring of Wallace, made three-pointers from Shareef Smith and Mack Smith and the inside playmaking abilities of Jordan Skipper-Brown and George Dixon.

The outcome of regulation came down to Dixon being at the free-throw line.

Spoonhour stated that Dixon works on his free throws constantly, and the result of that showed at the end of regulation.

Dixon knocked down two free throws to send the Panthers into overtime tied with a score of 73-73.

In overtime, the Governors relied on Taylor who scored six of the Governor’s seven points in the extra period.

Wallace led the Panthers with six of their 10 overtime points and made a game-tying layup and knocked down two free throws to give the Panthers the final lead of the game. The Panthers would win 83-80.

“When you’ve had some tough times late in games, a feeling starts to build, but the best way to erase that feeling is to go out and win a close game,” Spoohour said. “We showed that if we get into this conference tournament, we can do something.”

The Panthers are now 14-14 overall and 7-9 in conference play. The sixth-place Panthers finish up against Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois Edwardsville on the road this week.

The Panthers can clinch a spot in the OVC Tournament as soon as Thursday with a win against Southeast Missouri.

 

Blake Faith can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]