Eastern faces tough SEMO team Thursday on road

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Adam Tumino

Brian Barrett | The Daily Eastern News Jordyn Hughes (middle) tries to get around a defender to lead a fast break during Eastern’s 73-72 win over Austin Peay Feb. 22 in Lantz Arena. Eastern faces Southeast Missouri on the road Thursday.

JJ Bullock, Editor-In-Chief

The ticket to the OVC tournament has been punched for the Eastern women’s basketball team. The question remaining now for the team, however, is where will they be sitting, or seeded rather, when the tournament rolls around. 

The Panthers (11-5 OVC) are in control of their own seeding destiny with two games remaining. Win both of their remaining games and the Panthers will likely be the four seed, lose both and the five seed is more likely.

It’s that simple. Right?

Maybe not, as the team sitting in Eastern’s way of a win Thursday, Southeast Missouri (13-3 OVC), will not go down so easily.

Eastern is well aware of the challenge the Redhawks will present Thursday. Southeast Missouri beat Eastern 77-65 in Lantz Arena Jan. 25. The Redhawks, like Eastern, will be playing for pivotal seeding in the conference tournament, as they are chasing Tennessee-Martin (14-2 OVC) and Belmont (14-2 OVC) for the conference’s top two spots.

Eastern head coach Matt Bollant said Southeast Missouri’s physicality, which may be rivaled only by Jacksonville State, is what makes the Redhawks such a tough matchup. That physical style of play was Eastern’s topic of conversation this week at practice. 

What makes the Redhawks different than other physical teams, however, is their ability to score in high volumes as well as bully teams physically. Southeast Missouri leads the conference in scoring (73.2 ppg), much of which can be attributed to the Redhawks’ two elite scorers in Tesia Thompson and Carrie Shephard. 

Thompson (18.4 ppg) and Shephard (16.4 ppg) both rank in the top five in scoring in the OVC and led their team in scoring the first time against Eastern. 

“We put some tape down in the gym and talked about when (Thompson and Shephard) have the ball this is what we’re doing,” Bollant said. “We’re just trying to get more ready and obviously they have other pieces around them, but those two you have got to limit them and slow them down to have a chance.”

Eastern is likely barreling toward either the four or the five seed in the OVC tournament, regardless of what happens in the final two games. But, while it’s a longshot, the three seed is not out of the question completely for the Panthers.

The scenario of getting to the three seed is a muddy one for the Panthers, but it begins with a win over the Redhawks Thursday. 

To get the three seed Eastern has to beat Southeast Missouri Thursday and Southern Illinois Edwardsville (1-15 OVC) Saturday and finish the season with a 13-5 conference record. This means that Southeast Missouri would also have to lose to Tennessee-Martin Saturday, giving Eastern and Southeast Missouri identical 13-5 records. If those things happen a tiebreaker scenario would have to fall in Eastern’s favor to get the three seed. 

Exhale.

But Eastern is very aware it still has two games to take care of before any of those scenarios can come to fruition, so staying focused on the present has been key in practice this week. Part of that focus has come in reminding the team if they focus on the right things, they can compete with any team in the OVC. 

“I think just constantly working on getting better, and one of the things I challenged them on was, ‘Hey we had seven different players make threes on Saturday, there’s not many teams that have seven players making threes and we’re playing nine kids and there’s not many teams deeper than us as well,’” Bollant said. “So when we defend and rebound, we can be as good as anybody in our league. So let’s get better with our defense, let’s get better with our rebounding and see where that takes us.”

Eastern and Southeast Missouri tip-off at 5:15 p.m. Thursday. 

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]