CHARLESTON — The Eastern Illinois men's basketball team will be another guard short when it hosts Jacksonville State at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Lantz Arena.
Senior point guard Terrell Lewis suffered an ankle injury against Green Bay on Dec. 6 and will not return this season. Lewis, who is a member of the 1,000-point and 500-assist club, is seeking a medical redshirt.
Junior guard D'Angelo Jackson started to play the point with Lewis out and shared ball-handling duties with senior guard Montell Goodwin. But then Jackson suffered an ankle injury against Austin Peay on Dec. 30. He could return this season and is doing some running, according to coach Jay Spoonhour, but he's not ready to play this week.
With Lewis injured, the team pulled the redshirt off sophomore Logan Koch, who came off the bench to handle some point guard duties. On Saturday, Koch suffered a calf strain that kept him out of the second half and it will keep him out again this week.
So now Goodwin, who is averaging 37.3 minutes per game in Ohio Valley Conference play, will see even more time handling the ball. Walk-on sophomore Shawn Wilson, who has played 26 minutes total this season, could see time off the bench.
Plus the Panthers (7-14, 3-7) have to prepare for one of the most balanced teams in the OVC, Jacksonville State (16-7, 7-3). The Gamecocks have the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the OVC (15.9 assists to 12.8 turnovers a game), the best scoring defense in the OVC (only 64.7 points allowed per game) and the fifth-best offense in the conference (73.5 points per game).
"They take care of the ball, and for the most part, they are outrebounding everybody," Spoonhour said. "They do a lot of things well. Just the way the team is, they are a solid team and they don't beat themselves."
The Gamecocks have plenty of key players, but it starts with senior guard Malcolm Drumwright, who leads the team with 14.2 points per game. He also leads the team with 82 assists, and he only has 27 turnovers on the season.
"He's been a solid and a good player. He has a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, and stuff like that is a big deal," Spoonhour said. "He's a guy who is a scorer and makes winning plays. That's why you win games."
After Drumwright, Jason Burnell averages 11.2 points and 5.7 assists per game. Marlon Hunter is averaging 10.2 points per game.
The Gamecocks are second in the OVC in rebounding margin with a plus-6.1 per game. Christian Cunningham is averaging 7.1 rebounds per game, and Norbertas Giga is averaging 6.3 rebounds per game. As a team, the Gamecocks are averaging 38.4 rebounds per game.
Spoonhour said it's not just Cunningham and Giga getting all of the rebounds.
"It's a deal where everybody, not one of those guys, all three of them (Giga, Cunningham and Burnell) are going after them," Spoonhour said. "It's more than those three. Those guys are pretty relentless on going after it. The thing that makes them win: everyone is relentless and they go after it every time."
The Panthers face a team that hasn't allowed more than 67 points in its last four games. With the Panthers suffering their fair share of injuries, it's taken a toll on the offense. EIU is last in the OVC with 65.4 points per game, and the Panthers are only shooting 40.8 percent from the field. EIU was held to 47 points in the loss to Tennessee State on Saturday.
"We are having a hard time scoring against anybody," Spoonhour said. "We gotta figure out a way to get to the line more, attack more and not play so much on the perimeter. We've got to get to the foul line and get easy points. That's what takes any team from a poor-scoring team to a good one. Easy baskets are putbacks and free throws."
EIU has only attempted 353 free throws this season, which is last in the league. The Panthers are shooting 68.6 percent from the free-throw line. EIU did go 14-of-14 from the free-throw line against TSU on Saturday.
Montell Goodwin leads EIU with 13.8 points per game, and Jajuan Starks is averaging 11.1 points per game. Mack Smith is averaging 8.9 points per game this season but is averaging 10.8 points per game in OVC play and has hit 22 3-pointers in nine OVC games.