CHARLESTON, Ill. — On February 25, 2016, the Eastern Illinois Panthers welcomed Murray State into Lantz Arena for a nationally televised showdown. 2,000+ fans packed inside the cozy home of the Panthers and were treated to an 85-74 victory, which was by far the most impressive win of the season.
In the Racers’ first trip back, two newcomers, Terrell Miller Jr. and Jonathan Stark, avoided a repeat result, jockeying Murray State to an 83-72 vengeful win.
“When you rely on jumpers, it will come and go,” said Eastern Illinois head coach Jay Spoonhour. “We don’t really have guys that make plays off the bounce real well.
“Our stuff is ending in a jumper. And, jumpers are fickle. They (Murray State) are able to take it and go force you to foul.”
The Panthers leaped on Murray State at the tip. Eastern Illinois made their first five field goals, running out to an 11-2 lead. In contrast, the Racers missed their first three attempts, which set the tone for a slow start.
Although Murray State revved their offensive engines and joined the fast pace, junior Montell Goodwin kept the Panthers prowling at a safe distance. The Cleveland, Ohio, native scored all of his 14 points in the first half, 11 of which came in a personal 11-2.
A three-pointer by sharpshooter Casey Teson pushed Eastern Illinois ahead by a game-high margin, 33-22.
With six minutes remaining, Spoonhour’s team possessed an 11-point lead and had already weathered a Murray State run. Regardless, the Racers’ second spurt would be unanswered.
Spurred by three triples in less than three minutes, the Racers galloped back and tied the score at 35. Jonathan Stark nailed two three-pointers while Bryce Jones chipped in five points during the rally.
From the tie game, Murray State would seize a 41-39 edge heading into halftime.
The second half supplied the same action-packed, high-flying entertainment. In the opening 13:20, the Racers and Panthers were tied on six occasions and eight lead changes transpired. The final switch would decide the game.
Two of Jones’ 17 points created distance for Murray State, 66-65. The made jumper started a 10-1 segment stretching until the 1:20-mark. During the domination, the Panthers were 0-of-5 from the field and squandered three bonus free throws.
The Racers, who attempted 32 free throws in total, made all seven shots from the charity stripe in the final 80 seconds and sealed a 3-1 start to their OVC season.
“[We need to quit] fouling and stuff. They shot a lot of free throws,” said Eastern Illinois junior Montell Goodwin.
For a third consecutive contest, Murray State’s Terrell Miller Jr. finished with a double-double. The JUCO transfer had 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. The Florida native is averaging 19.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game during the Racers’ road trip.
Although they shot inefficiently, Jonathan Stark and Bryce Jones both finished with 17 points. Stark stuffed the statsheet with 5 rebounds and 4 assists to go with his point total. Damarcus Croaker and Gee McGhee supplied 9 points apiece.
The Panthers’ Ray Crossland, similar to Miller Jr., continued his strong play with 18 points. The 6’6″ forward also soared for 8 rebounds, keeping his streak of 8+ rebound performances intact (3). He is also producing 16 points per game during the span.
The athletic Muusa Dama enjoyed a career-high 15 points and was one rebound shy of his fifth career double-double. The West African had 3 blocks. Montell Goodwin concluded with 14 points and was held scoreless in the final 20 minutes.
“I think I ran out of [gas] a little bit. I was a little tired,” said Goodwin of his second half. “I was just missing [shots].”
9-9 (3-1) Murray State continues to sit atop the Ohio Valley West Division. The Racers will set aside their suitcases after playing SIU Edwardsville on Saturday. Seven of their nine games that follow take place at CFSB Center.
For the 9-8 (1-3) Panthers, all three conference losses have been single-digit defeats. Eastern Illinois hosts Austin Peay on Saturday.
“It’s not about wins and losses. It is about playing well. We need to play well for longer stretches,” Spoonhour said. “This was one we needed to win. But, we play [again] in 36 hours.”
– P. Wesner