CHARLESTON -- Confidence and swagger.
Those are the two things Eastern Illinois women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant wants to see out of his team this season. He’s seen it during practice and he’s seen it at times during games this season.
The confidence and swagger were missing at the beginning of Tuesday’s home game against Bradley, though, and it helped the Braves out to a 13-0 lead.
EIU was able to recover, but the hole was too deep as Bradley went on to beat EIU 67-52 while the Panthers fell to 1-6 on the season.
Bollant said he was really disappointed in the start of the game.
“We had five really good days of practice. We were aggressive and fought and had good mentality,” Bollant said. “We didn’t start the game that way and somehow, someway, we have to. We dug ourselves such a hole to start the game. I thought our approach in the second, third and fourth quarters were good and if we had that approach to start the game, I would love to see where it was at.”
It’s been a season of peaks and valleys. Bollant liked what he saw out of his team against Cleveland State even though EIU lost, same with St. Joseph. But against Delaware and in other losses this season, the Panthers haven’t performed to the level Bollant expects of them and he thinks the answer is simple.
“Our lack of belief is killing us. Besides Grace (Lennox) and Danielle Berry has a little bit (of belief),” Bollant said. “You don’t play with confidence if you don’t believe in yourself. Right now, we don’t have many players that have stepped on the court and believe in themselves. To play at this level and be successful, and it’s our job as a coaching staff to help them, but (you have to believe).”
While the answer is simple, getting the players to believe in themselves is the tough part. Bollant and his staff are in their first season of coaching the Panthers and they’ve spent a good amount of time working on the team’s confidence through different exercises.
“We are trying to be creative. Today, we had their teammates write up three things that each one does well on the court,” Bollant said. “So they had 11 to 12 teammates writing down what they do well on the court. We have them write down before they go to bed, what went well today. Three things that went well and one thing you can get better at.
“We are trying to do the psychological part, but to be a good athlete, you have to have swagger and we are lacking that swagger.”
EIU missed its first six shots in the game and turned the ball over twice. Bradley jumped out to a 13-0 lead with 5:52 left in the first quarter. The Panthers wound up only scoring seven points in the first quarter as the Braves hit four 3-pointers to take a 20-7 lead.
Then Bradley opened up the second quarter on an 8-0 run to go up 28-7. EIU did get a bucket from Jalisha Smith and a three from Taylor Steele, but then didn’t score again for almost 6 minutes as Bradley went up 34-12.
EIU got a three from Grace McRae, a layup from Lennox and a putback by McRae to cut Bradley’s lead to 37-19 going into the half.
EIU shot only 24 percent from the field. Bradley shot 35.5 percent, but grabbed 17 offensive rebounds for 13 second chance points. The Braves only had five offensive rebounds in the second half.
“The percentage of offensive rebounds, we were so passive to start the game,” Bollant said. “We didn’t hit anybody, we didn’t pursue the ball. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you don’t play the game with confidence and aggressiveness, you are not going to get good results. That’s the way we started the game and the numbers certainly lined up with it, too.
Plus Bradley hit six shots from behind the arc in the first half. The Braves hit eight threes, tying a season-high for a team that was only shooting 29.8 percent from behind the arc.
“I don’t think they are a great shooting team when we scouted them, but we did give them some good rhythm shots and give credit to them for stepping up and making shots,” Bollant said. “In the first quarter, I don’t think we were ready for them to step up and shoot the ball the way they did.”
Lennox hit a couple of jumpers and Carmen Tellez hit a three to pull EIU within 13 at 39-26. But the Panthers couldn’t cut the lead any more and Bradley went back up 48-29.
The Panthers did make a run at the end of the third quarter when Lennox hit a three and then completed a three-point play to make it 51-36 going into the fourth quarter.
Bradley countered with a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter for a 58-36 lead. EIU didn’t score until the 6:07 mark of the fourth and fell to Bradley 67-52.