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The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News


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Panthers’ exit in OVC Tournament explained

Sia Deykoontz
Men’s basketball players are distressed over the game against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Wednesday night, March 8, 2024 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana. The Panthers lost 68-57 against the SIUE Cougars.

For the first time since the 2019-2020 season, Eastern men’s basketball team clinched a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in Evansville, Indiana.

Eastern came into the tournament as the seventh seed and was set to play the sixth seeded Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Wednesday, March 6.

“We were excited to have the opportunity to compete in the tournament,” Eastern’s head coach Marty Simmons said after the game.

The Panthers ended up losing to the Cougars 68-57, as the Cougars dominated throughout the first half.

SIUE would have a 17-point lead over Eastern to end the first half.

“We dug ourselves a hole,” Simmons said. “Being down 17 in the half was tough, but I thought our guys did a great job coming out in the second half.”

The Panthers started the second half with a 10-4 run over the Cougars, but in the end, the Panthers could not catch up.

A big aspect from this Panthers’ team were the six transfers that played in the tournament: junior guards NaKyel Shelton, Corey Sawyer Jr. and Jaylin Gibson, junior guard/forward Kyndall Davis, redshirt sophomore forwards Lazar Grbovic and senior guard Tiger Booker.

Shelton led the Panthers with 20 points, as Booker recorded an additional 12 points.

Booker also led the Panthers in assists with six, as Davis recorded an additional two throughout the game.

Here are some aspects of the game that played a role in the Panthers’ first round exit:

  1. The absence of Kooper Jacobi

Jacobi, the redshirt sophomore forward transfer from Sellersburg, Indiana, was the leading rebounder for the Panthers until the last game of the regular season against Western Illinois University on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Jacobi ended the season with 131 total rebounds.

Jacobi was ruled out with a stress fracture in his foot for most of the team’s conference games. Before Eastern played SIUE on Tuesday, Feb. 27, Jacobi was cleared to play, yet he did not appear in the game nor any of the other games for the remainder of the season.

Without Jacobi, the Panthers were down one of their tallest players that added height down in the paint.

Grbovic, fifth-year forward Jermaine Hamlin and junior forward Rodolfo Rufino Bolis played valuable minutes for the Panthers in the paint against the Cougars.

“We lost one of our leading rebounders and leading scorers [in] Kooper Jacobi, and it just seemed after that, we just kept losing a guy or two,” Simmons said. “I love how our guys kept battling and hanging in there, and they earned their way into the tournament. Not being healthy 100 percent of the time; they never used it as an excuse.”

The Panthers have experienced numerous injuries throughout the season, from head to toe, but the team continued to fight throughout the season to get their spot in the tournament.

  1. The rebounding battle

The rebounding aspect of the game is something the Panthers have struggled with throughout the season.

Eastern lost the rebounding battle to SIUE 39-34. Although the margin between the two is fairly close, the Panthers struggle to win games when they are out-rebounded by the other team.

The Panthers ended their season with a 14-18 overall record and an 8-10 record in the OVC.


Zaria Flippin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.

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