Panthers’ 2nd-half comeback falls short against Murray State

Eastern+forward+Taris+Thornton+fights+for+position+under+the+basket+in+the+Panthers+game+against+Murray+State+Monday+in+Lantz+Arena.+Thornton+finished+with+14+points+and+six+rebounds+in+the+game%2C+which+Eastern+lost+80-71

Rob Le Cates | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern forward Taris Thornton fights for position under the basket in the Panthers’ game against Murray State Monday in Lantz Arena. Thornton finished with 14 points and six rebounds in the game, which Eastern lost 80-71

Adam Tumino, Sports Editor

A fervent fourth-quarter surge from the Eastern women’s basketball team put them in position to beat Murray State at home Monday.

The Panthers climbed back from a 12-point deficit early in the quarter, going on a 15-4 run to pull within one point of the Racers with four minutes to go. But Murray State responded with a run of its own, closing out the game 12-4 to pick up an 80-71 win.

The Panthers fell to 1-3 in OVC play with the loss, while Murray State improved its conference record to 4-2. The game was rescheduled for Monday after having been postponed on Jan. 6.

Eastern head coach Matt Bollant said he though the Panthers competed throughout the game and put themselves in a position to get a win against a strong opponent.

“We came out, got up 14-5 early, and then challenged them in the second half,” he said. “We cut it back to one and gave ourselves a shot.”

Murray State was able to pull away at the end on the strength of its star players, getting eight of their last 12 points from forward Katelyn Young and guard Macey Turley. Both players finished with 18 points to lead all scorers and rank first and fifth in the OVC in scoring respectively.

“Give them credit.Young and Turley are two of the best players in our conference,” Bollant said. “We let Turley get going early and then let Young a little bit late, but overall I though we did a pretty good job.”

Eastern had three players score in double figures, led by freshman guard Julia Bengston with 15. Senior guard Jordyn Hughes and freshman forward Taris Thornton added 14 points each.

Thornton only played 35 seconds in the first half, but her second-half performance was vital in propelling the Panthers back into the game.

Soon after Thornton came back into the game with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter, the Panthers were down 52-38, their biggest deficit of the game.

Then, fueled in part by Thornton, the Panthers went on an extended 29-16 run to cut the score to 68-67. She finished with 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 16 minutes. She set new career highs in points, rebounds and minutes.

Thornton said that she just wanted to focus on ways she could help the team when on the floor.

“I just wanted to help my team and score, and I really wanted to fight for them” she said.

Bollant said that Thornton’s success came from how active she is, which allows her to affect the game in different ways.

“She’s just really active. She just gets her hands in stuff, she drives it hard, she’s got a great first step and she offensive rebounds,” he said. “I’m just proud of her. She played with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence, and Julia did as well.”

Bollant praised the play of the team’s freshmen, as Thornton, Bengston and Miah Monahan combined for 36 points and forward Ellie Colson had a steal in limited minutes off the bench.

Rebounding in general, and offensive rebounding in particular, was something that the Panthers did well Monday.

Murray State entered the game as the OVC leaders in rebounding margin, a category in which the Panthers rank seventh.

Despite that, each team had 32 rebounds in the game, and Eastern had 13 offensive rebounds to the Racers’ four.

“They’re a good rebounding team, and only had four offensive rebounds,” Bollant said. “That’s not been a strength for us, we’ve got to work really hard and I though we did that today.”

The Panthers and Racers will play again Thursday, this time with Murray State as the home team.

It is a scheduling quirk brought on by a recent rash of postponements for the Panthers, who recently had three-consecutive games postponed due to COVID-19 issues in the program. Monday’s game was the second for the Panthers since the postponements, having returned to action against Austin Peay on Jan. 15.

Eastern was able to avoid postponements last season, and Bollant said that the long stretch without games presented a new challenge for the team.

“Having such a long break and getting rusty, for five days a lot of (the players) weren’t even able to work out, so obviously we’ve got to play a lot of basketball,” he said. “But we’re fortunate. How blessed we are, we get to play college basketball, we get to coach and do something we love. So let’s cherish. Let’s not take it for granted because it can change any day.”

The Panthers will play Murray State Thursday with tipoff scheduled for 5 p.m.

 

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]