FORT WAYNE, Ind. — After falling behind 13-0 against Bradley in the team’s last game, Eastern Illinois women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant was looking for a better start out of his team, especially after the Panthers never really warmed up and shot only 27 percent from the field against the Braves.
EIU got off to a better start against Fort Wayne and scored 20 points in the first quarter, more than it did in the entire first half against Bradley. The Panthers even went on to shoot 48.4 percent (30-of-62) from the field against the Mastodons.
But this time it was the other end of the court that wasn’t efficient for the Panthers. Even though EIU put up 77 points, it wasn’t enough to stay within double digits of Fort Wayne.
The Panthers didn’t get the defensive stops it needed as the Mastodons shot 70.8 percent (34-of-48) from the field and outscored EIU 93-77 for the win on Friday at the Gates Sports Center.
“Give (Fort Wayne) a lot of credit. I thought we played our best offensive game of the year, just couldn’t string together stops,” Bollant said. “We tried playing man, played zone, played buzz, and it didn’t string together many stops, no matter what we were doing. Part of it was they made shots; part of it was a lack of awareness of us understanding what we need to accomplish.”
By the end of the first half, EIU scored 41 points. Even though the offense slowed down in the final two quarters, EIU still scored 36 points and finished with its second highest point total of the season.
The inability to get stops on the other end wasted a good offensive effort, though.
“I felt really good about our first half. We had several contested shots that (Fort Wayne) made in the first half,” Bollant said. “But we didn’t sustain that effort in the second half. Defensively, we never got enough stops.”
Grace Lennox led EIU with 21 points and eight assists, Jennifer Nehls had 17 points and Grace McRae had 16 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Bollant said all three players had good games, but others need to step up to give the team the consistency in needs on both ends of the court.
“I thought G-Mac was great and Jen and Grace, we had three people that played pretty well. (Danielle Berry) fought really hard,” Bollant said. “Those three played really well, but we need more consistency and gotta find others that want to play defense and care enough.”
EIU avoided a slow start when Jennifer Nehls hit a 3 and Berry made a layup for a 5-0 lead. But the Panthers defense struggled right out of the gate as Fort Wayne went on an 8-0 run to take an 8-5 lead with 5:54 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers got back-to-back buckets by Carmen Tellez to tie the game at 13, and the two teams traded buckets until a free throw gave Fort Wayne a slight advantage as the Mastodons went into the second quarter with a 22-21 lead.
Then the Mastodons got back-to-back jumpers for a 26-21 lead. Fort Wayne continued to stretch out the lead and was up 34-27 with 5:43 left in the half. The Mastodons shot 66.7 percent up to that point when EIU started to get a few more defensive stops.
The Panthers forced three turnovers in the 5 minutes of the half and cut Fort Wayne’s lead to 43-41.
Even with the turnovers, Fort Wayne shot 69.2 percent (18-of-26) from the field in the first half.
EIU’s offense kept up with the Mastodons, though, as the Panthers shot 51.5 percent from the field and had nine assists compared to only four turnovers.
But the Panthers turned the ball over three times and were held to four points in the first 5 minutes of the half as Fort Wayne jumped out to its biggest lead at 53-45.
Grace Lennox kept the game in reach for EIU with a 3-pointer and two jumpers, but De’Jour Young scored four straight points to put the Mastodons up by 10 at 62-52.
Then Fort Wayne made three straight 3s to take control of the game as the Mastodons went into the fourth quarter up 71-54.
A couple of 3s helped the Mastodons build a 79-59 lead early in the fourth quarter. EIU cut into Fort Wayne’s lead, but couldn’t get it under double digits again as Fort Wayne won 93-77.