CHARLESTON -- Saint Francis, an NAIA program from Joliet, stuck with the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team for about 12 minutes during Thursday’s game at Lantz Arena.
Then the Panthers started to clean up some things offense and pulled away from the Fighting Saints. EIU built a double-digit lead by halftime and then were up by 20 points before the midway mark of the second half.
The Panthers kept building their lead and picked up an 74-38 win over Saint Francis to improve to 4-7 on the season.
EIU coach Jay Spoonhour saw what he needed to out of the team in the game as it gets ready for Ohio Valley Conference play next Thursday at Murray State.
“With the injuries that we have, some of those guys that played at the end, that wasn’t just them having fun. Logan (Koch) needs to make plays, DeVantae Price and Shawn Wilson, those guys might need to play and do well and I thought they did fine,” Spoonhour said. “There were times we lost our concentration and times I thought we were sluggish, but at this point, when you’ve gone through what we’ve gone through over the past three weeks, I am not going to dissect a W. I’m happy that we went out and played hard.”
The Panthers have been without four-year starting point guard Terrell Lewis for the past three games because of a high-grade ankle sprain. Spoonhour said the trainers will look at him again to see if he can make it back for the OVC opener, but the time table is usually four to six weeks for that injury.
So the Panthers are still working through some issues without Lewis out there. In the first game without Lewis, EIU turned it over 18 times against South Alabama. Against Western Illinois on Tuesday, EIU only had eight turnovers. But against Saint Francis, the Panthers turned the ball over 18 times.
“(The guys) know what the game is coming in and there’s a little bit of looseness on trying to make plays that aren’t there,” Spoonhour said. “They are trying to do well. There were a couple of plays our guards made that we probably shouldn’t have.”
The Panthers still had more assists than turnovers, though. EIU finished the game with 21 assists and four players had three or more assists in the game.
“That’s good because we haven’t always been that way. We’ve put it on the floor and have tried to shoot it,” Spoonhour said. “We dropped it off to guys down low. We’ve worked on that and that’s the thing I like about this team, the stuff we work on, they do a pretty good job of taking it to the games.”
Montell Goodwin, who shot 39 percent from behind the arc last year but was shooting 28 percent from three this season, hit 5-of-8 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 15 points and had five assists. Muusa Dama had his ninth career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Michael Chavers and Jajuan Starks each had nine points and Ray Crossland had seven points.
“I was happy to see the ball go in for Montell. That’s a big deal,” Spoonhour said. “Dama went and rebounded it and got it in the goal, that’s a huge deal. Ray just continues to be solid with all of his stuff. He still guards well and it’s important for him to give that to us.”
EIU opened the game with a short jumper from Starks, a three from Goodwin and then Goodwin hit Dama for an alley-oop for a 7-2 lead.
Saint Francis stuck with the Panthers early, though. The Fighting Saints went on a 6-0 run to take an 8-7 lead with 16:04 left in the half.
Goodwin gave the Panthers the lead for good with back-to-back 3-pointers to put EIU up 15-10 with 12:08 left in the half.
Saint Francis kept it close at 20-18 with Starks scored on a layup and it sparked a 15-2 run for the Panthers. Crossland scored six points during the run and Dama had two dunks as EIU went up 35-20.
Saint Francis did cut the game to 11 points going into halftime as EIU led 36-25.
The Fighting Saints cut it to 10 points early in the second half when the Panthers put the game out of reach. EIU went on an 8-0 run to go up 46-28 with 16:48 left in the game.
The Panthers stretched it out to a 30-point lead with 9:19 left and were up 63-33. EIU went on to win by 36.