CHARLESTON — In the two losses to Nebraska and Western Illinois to start the season, the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team didn’t make the key plays it needed to offensively late in the game.
On Friday against IUPUI, the Panthers trailed for most of the second half but kept the game close. All EIU had to do was make the key plays late, on offense and defense.
The Panthers did just that as EIU picked up its first win of the season, beating IUPUI 80-79.
“I told the fellas after ‘you stepped up and made plays’ and not all of them are always baskets,” EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. “Some of them are baskets. Jajuan (Starks) had a rebound that was huge. Ray Crossland knocks a pass away in transition that allows us to score a basket, that’s huge. You never want to equate making a play with having the ball and shooting it, because that may be the case, but maybe you find a guy or whatever the case calls for and I thought we did that.”
EIU point guard Terrell Lewis finished with a career-high 25 points. He also hit seven 3-pointers and moved into fifth-place all-time in career 3s made at EIU. He also had five assists and only had two turnovers.
“My team was believing in me, so any look I was getting, I was making for them. I was trying to make them to get the team the win tonight,” Lewis said. “I don’t really focus on individual stats. The stat that means a lot to me was the W. I didn’t even realize I hit that many shots. I was just so happy to win, I didn’t care who made the shots.”
IUPUI started with an 8-4 lead when Dama’s reverse layup and Mack Smith’s bucket in the paint tied the game at 8-8. The two teams traded buckets, and IUPUI had an 18-15 lead when Justice Green hit a 3-pointer, D’Angelo Jackson made a free throw and a Starks putback gave EIU a 21-18 lead.
EIU was up 23-20 shortly after, but the Jaguars went on an 8-1 run to go back up 28-24. EIU came back and tied the game at 30-30 and went back up 35-34 after a 3-pointer by Lewis with 3:39 left in the half.
IUPUI scored the next 7 points to go up 41-35. Lewis hit a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding, and EIU went into halftime down 41-38.
Lewis hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half to tie the game at 46. It also moved Lewis into fifth-place all-time in EIU career 3-pointers.
But IUPUI came right back with a 7-0 run to go back up 53-46.
EIU chipped away at the lead when Starks and Lewis made back-to-back layups to make it 66-64 with 8:45 remaining. The Panthers kept it close and then Lewis hit his sixth 3 of the game, and EIU tied the contest at 69 with 5:44 to go.
“He was locked in and he was really locked in defensively in the last game,” Spoonhour said of Lewis. “That’s a testament to how good he is, he just doesn’t do too much wrong. Man did he step up and do some stuff tonight. The guys got him the ball, but you have to jump up and make them and he did.”
Then with 2:26 left, Lewis gave EIU its first lead since the first half with his seventh 3 to go up 76-75. IUPUI got the lead back with a layup, but Crossland put EIU up with a layup.
The Jaguars missed three straight shots, but they got three straight offensive rebounds and took a 79-78 lead with 17 seconds left.
Lewis then drew a foul and went to the line for two free throws. He made both and it gave EIU an 80-79 lead with 6 seconds left.
Lewis said he felt comfortable taking those free throws late.
“Coach ran a high-ball screen and it was to get downhill and get to the rim where we could either get fouled or get a layup,” Lewis said. “I was comfortable. Coach has us in the gym shooting extra free throws, so I was comfortable.”
T.J. Henderson tried to drive the length of the court, but Dama stripped the ball from him, and fell on it as the buzzer sounded to give EIU the 80-79 win.
“At the end of the game, (Muusa) did exactly what he needed to do,” Spoonhour said. “I thought we stayed between the ball and the basket pretty well. It never felt like we were going to win to me. That was a scary game all the way through. (IUPUI) was playing well and they have good players. They are going to be good this year I think.”