CHARLESTON — The more things change, the more they stay the same sometimes. This applies to the Belmont men's basketball team as long as they are coached by Rick Byrd.
Belmont, which is usually one of the favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference, is once again at the top of the OVC standings, along with a number of teams currently. Belmont is 12-6 overall and 4-1 in the OVC, tying the Bruins with Murray State, Jacksonville State (which beat Belmont), Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay.
On Saturday, Belmont comes to Lantz Arena for a 3:15 p.m. tip.
"It's pretty easy to scout them. There's not a whole lot of changing going on," EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. "The players change and they don't do everything exactly the same, but they are consistently pretty good. You know you have to defend guys from shooting the ball in. They do a lot of good stuff to free themselves up."
Once again, Belmont has one of the top offenses in the OVC. The Bruins are averaging 75.6 points per game and are shooting 47 percent from the field. The Bruins are also shooting 76 percent from the free throw line and 35.4 percent from behind the arc. Belmont is averaging 15.5 assists per game.
Teams have found a way to slow down Belmont's offense a bit this season. The Bruins have seven games of 70 or fewer points scored. Belmont has only won three of those contests.
"A lot of it, your team has to have the ability to stay in front of them. If you get beat off the dribble or on a screen, you never really recover," Spoonhour said. "You might get lucky and they might miss the shot. If you are scrabbling, they will get you because they all pass it well. I think what makes them really good is they are a really good passing team."
Forward Amanze Egekeze leads Belmont with 17.9 points per game to go along with 6.4 rebounds per game. Egekeze is shooting 50.7 percent (109-of-215) from the field, and he leads the team in 3-pointers made with 52. He is shooting 40.6 percent from behind the arc.
Muusa Dama and Aboubacar Diallo have guarded well inside for the Panthers over the past few games, but Egekeze has the ability to stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting.
"He does go inside, he has (a lot of other shots) that aren't 3s," Spoonhour said. "Half of his baskets are 3s, and that's where he gets you. There aren't many guys that can defend inside and outside. That will be the thing."
Dylan Windler adds 16 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and Kevin McClain is averaging 11.9 points per game for Belmont. Austin Luke has 125 assists on the season.
Montell Goodwin leads EIU, which is 6-10 overall and 2-3 in the OVC, with 13.8 points per game, and Jajuan Starks is averaging 11.3 points a game. EIU is only averaging 65.4 points per game, including 57.2 points per game in OVC play.
"We gotta guard them well because we can't let them score a whole bunch of points, because we aren't scoring well," Spoonhour said. "We can't do what we've done the past couple of games, put the other team at the line. You have to make plays. It will be a different game than Tennessee State, but you have to make plays. When you have the advantage on the drive, you have to finish. We left a lot of points on the floor. You can't miss layups and give away easy points."