Analysis: Assessing Panthers’ OVC tournament chances

Adam Tumino, Women’s Basketball Reporter

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

Having clinched its first OVC tournament appearance since the 2014-2015 season, the Eastern women’s basketball team may be in a position to make a run in the tournament. There are two games left in the regular season, but it is never too soon to look ahead.

Despite the lack of recent success, the Panthers have several qualities that could help them succeed. The first of these qualities is a good record in single-digit games.

The Panthers are 6-1 in conference play in games decided by single figures. They have also posted some big blowout wins, including a 47-point victory against Eastern Kentucky Feb. 6.

But the success in close games bodes well. Come tournament time, it is likely that the games will be highly competitive and close down to the wire.

The Panthers’ success in these close games is particularly impressive given their relative inexperience and youth, often starting two freshman and two sophomores.

One of those freshmen, Morgan Litwiller, stepped up and hit two free throws in the game’s final seconds after collecting an offensive rebound.

Freshman Lariah Washington has hit clutch free throws multiple times this season. The Panthers are a team that is capable of making big shots when they need to, which can be invaluable come tournament time.

Another factor that could help the Panthers be successful is three-point shooting. Eastern has three players in the top 15 in the conference in three-point percentage.

Karle Pace is second, shooting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc. Litwiller is eighth at 35.8 percent and Jordyn Hughes is 14th, shooting 33.7 percent from three.

As a team, the Panthers rank second in the OVC with a three-point shooting percentage of 33.8 percent.

It has been said many times that defense wins championships. Eastern’s defense ranks third in the conference this season as it is allowing just 61.8 points per game. This puts the Panthers’ average margin +6.2, ranking third in the conference. They are one of just four teams with a margin greater than six.

Eastern also excels in the turnover department, leading the OVC with 10.7 steals per game. This is 0.9 more steals per game than second-place Austin Peay.

The Panthers take care of the ball for the most part as well. They have committed the fourth-fewest turnovers in the conference with 424.

They are committing 15.7 turnovers per game and forcing 19, giving them the second-best turnover margin in the OVC.

Whether or not the Panthers make a tournament run remains to be seen, but the emerging team possess several qualities that can make them a threat to their OVC foes.

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2182 or [email protected]