Timing and momentum can change any season in sports, and the Eastern men’s basketball team is evidence of that.
In the span of two weeks Eastern finished the season on a four-game winning streak after getting two come-from-behind wins against Murray State and Austin Peay. The Panthers then funneled that into their first two conference road wins against Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois Edwardsville.
In the second half against Southeast Missouri, the Redhawks brought themselves back into the game with less than five minutes left in the game when Nygal Russell made a three-pointer to make the score 63-58.
The Panthers fought off the Redhawk comeback behind their leading scorer junior Josiah Wallace, who scored six of their nine points by getting to the free throw line, making layups and using his mid-range shooting ability to his advantage. The Panthers won 72-70.
Against Southern Illinois Edwardsville the Panthers made the most of their revenge outing by dominating the Cougars 35-19 to begin the first half. Junior Kashawn Charles led the Panthers in the first half with nine points shooting 2-of-4 from the three-point line and 3-of-6 overall.
The Panthers went on to win 70-52. Charles finished the game with 17 points and junior Mack Smith finished the game with 16 points.
The Panthers finish the season with a 16-14 overall record and a 9-9 conference record. The Panthers finished in the OVC the same spot they were predicted to be in the OVC preseason poll (sixth place).
Anybody who has watched this team or followed them throughout the season knows this team is the controller of its destiny. The Panthers are 2-3 against the top-three teams in the OVC in Belmont, Murray State and Austin Peay.
Against Austin Peay and Murray State on the road, the Panthers lost both by four points or less. At home the Panthers secured wins against both by single digits while being behind against both by double digits with 11 minutes left in the game.
The Panthers have proven their abilities to be a capable two-way team. The Panthers finished in the top-three in the OVC statistics in steals, blocks, assists and scoring defense.
The Panthers are led defensively by George Dixon, JaQualis Matlock and Jordan Skipper-Brown. Dixon leads the team in steals (43) and rebounds per game (8.7), Matlock (35) and Skipper-Brown (31) lead the team in blocked shots with a combined 66 blocks and both are second and third in rebounds per game.
Offensively the Panthers are lead in scoring by Wallace, but Smith and Dixon also average in double figures. Smith’s streak of 79 consecutive games with a three-pointer made is second all-time in NCAA history, and he averages 13.3 points per game.
Dixon averages 11.1 points per game and leads the team in double doubles. Charles has emerged as an offensive weapon for the Panthers as he averages 6.1 points per game, but is second in the OVC in three-point field goal percentage with a 45.6% three-point shooting percentage.
Eastern will play Jacksonville State to start their OVC Tournament play. In the regular season Eastern won against Jacksonville State 70-69. Wallace scored a game-high 20 points.
Eastern will play against Jacksonville State Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
Blake Faith can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]