CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois senior point guard Grace Lennox was only five points away from 1,000 career points. Getting to 1,000 points will have to wait for a year, though.

EIU’s leading scorer has had a lingering knee injury throughout the season that was going to require surgery at some point. Lennox and EIU head coach Matt Bollant both decided it was best to have the surgery now. So Lennox returned back home to Tasmania to have surgery on her knee and will miss the rest of the season.

Since EIU hasn’t played nine games yet this season, the Panthers are 1-7 overall, Lennox will receive a medical redshirt and can compete next season.

“The good thing is she will be back another year,” Bollant said. “We will get another year of her leadership, but she is done for the year.”

Lennox was leading the team with 15.4 points and 4.9 assists per game. No other player is averaging double figures for EIU this season. Sophomore forward Jennifer Nehls is the second-leading scorer with 8.6 per game, and freshman forward Grace McRae is averaging 7.8 points per game.

Bollant said a number of people will have to pick up the production that’s lost without Lennox in the lineup.

“I think it's Jenn that’s done the best in practice. GMac has as well,” Bollant said. “(Danielle Berry), when we went out East, she got food poisoning and I think she’s back healthy, and it took a little bit out of her. Carmen (Tellez) can certainly score. Hopefully everyone can step up a bit because we can’t replace Grace as a player.”

The Panthers do have options at point guard. Berry has handled the point to give Lennox some rest over the past two seasons and has been a starter for EIU this season. Freshmen Taylor Steele and Karle Pace will see more time off the bench at the point.

“Taylor will start and then Dani. Karle is getting better in practice,” Bollant said. “She’s a player in practice that’s been our most improved player from fall until now. Karle will play Monday and probably play extended minutes.”

The team has had a bit of time to prepare for Lennox’s absence. EIU’s last game was Friday, Dec. 8, giving the Panthers more than a week to prepare for Monday’s opponent, Valparaiso, without Lennox.

“We needed a break honestly. With finals, it’s a lot for freshmen, and we have a lot of new kids,” Bollant said. “It’s good to work through this past week. I thought we had a good week, and we will see what we look like on Monday. The girls had a good week.

“Obviously it’s hard news to lose a point guard, especially as good of a player as her. They are handling it well so far. We are looking forward to getting to conference play. We’ve played a really tough non-conference schedule, so we have to control what we can control.”

The Panthers take on Valpo at noon on Monday at Lantz Arena for the annual Kids’ Day game.

Valpo comes into the game with a 5-4 record. Valparaiso is averaging 68.3 points per game, and Dani Franklin leads the team with 16 points per game. Meredith Hamlet adds 13 points per game.

“They score a lot of points and have a very good post player with Dani Franklin,” Bollant said. “They have a really good two-guard that can really shoot it with Hamlet. They can shoot the ball. They are really skilled with a good post player, so we have to slow them down.

“We have to find Franklin and not let her get going. Offensively, we have to patient and get our shot.”

It’s the first home game for EIU in a month when the Panthers beat Evansville 79-52 on Nov. 18.

“I am excited to be back home. It’s Kids' Day so there will be 2,000 kids there cheering us on,” Bollant said. “It should be a great atmosphere. We play at home Monday and Wednesday, and the guys are at home Tuesday and Thursday, so we would love for the community to come out and support both teams.”

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Sports writer

Mike Monahan covers area sports for the JG-TC.

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