CHARLESTON — There are many similarities between the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team and Tennessee State. Both teams come in with 6-9 overall record, and EIU has one more OVC win at 2-2 than TSU (1-3).
Both teams are averaging 65 points per game and shooting 41 percent on the season. TSU is allowing slightly more points, 68.9 per game, than EIU, 66.0 per game, but both teams are allowing 43 percent shooting against opponents.
The only big difference on paper is that TSU shoots better at the free-throw line (71.6 percent) than EIU (64.8 percent).
So Thursday’s contest at Lantz Arena, which tips at 6 p.m. and will be on CBS Sports Network, has the potential to be a tightly contested game.
“They’ve had the same issues we’ve had,” EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. “They do a lot of things to get themselves easy baskets. They rebound it hard, run and trap more than we do, and they are pretty good at it. You look at the Texas game (with TSU), and they forced them to make some tough shots.”
With Dana Ford as the coach, the Tigers rely on their defense. TSU is allowing under 70 points per game, but Tennessee Tech scored 87 points against TSU on Saturday. The Tigers also allowed 77 points against Southeast Missouri State in a loss. In the Tigers' lone OVC win, they held Jacksonville State to only 60 points.
Even though the Tigers lost to Texas earlier this season, they were in the game because of their defense. TSU only gave up 47 points in the one-point loss.
“They play hard all of the time, and they make you make plays,” Spoonhour said. “They do that by putting a ton of pressure on you and (they) force you to put the ball on the floor and make a play.”
EIU’s offense has struggled in OVC play. The Panthers have only scored more than 60 points in one OVC game this season and are averaging 55.2 points per game in that span. EIU is only shooting 34.2 percent from the field in the last four games.
Still, the Panthers won their last two games. EIU had only nine turnovers against Morehead State and are coming off 14 turnovers against Eastern Kentucky.
TSU’s defense has been able to cause turnovers. The Tigers are third in the OVC with 7.4 steals per game.
“They are going to force some turnovers and make some steals,” Spoonhour said. “You can’t just let them trap you and sit back. You have to go and attack. Whatever that trade off ends up being, that will be the game. (Montell Goodwin) knows his job and what he has to do. Guys like Ray (Crossland), Jajuan (Starks) and Muusa (Dama), they will have the chance to attack and make the right play.”
Goodwin leads EIU with 13.6 points per game. Starks is averaging 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and Dama is averaging 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
The Tigers were held under 70 points in the first three OVC games before breaking through with 81 against Tech on Saturday. It was the first time the Tigers scored 70 or more points since Dec. 2 in a loss to Lipscomb.
Delano Spencer leads the Tigers with 15.4 points per game, and he’s made 43 3-pointers this season. Christian Mekowulu averages 12 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest.
“We have to keep guarding and keep rebounding,” Spoonhour said. “If we ever stop doing that, one of those guys can get going and (Darreon) Reddick, he can shoot. The numbers don’t say that, but he can and he will start making it at some point.
“Neither team can let the other one get into the 70s or else they will probably lose. It’s going to be a tough game.”