The Eastern Illinois men's basketball team has come so close to getting some big wins this season. The Panthers dropped a four-point game at Nebraska to open the season and suffered a two-point loss at Western Illinois in the next game. Later against Marquette, the Panthers lost by three points in overtime at Marquette, and EIU is coming off a two-point loss against Green Bay on Dec. 6.
Those four losses are mixed in with a couple of other defeats and two wins to give EIU a 2-6 record on the season, but the Panthers are currently in a three-game skid as they travel to South Alabama, which is 5-5 on the season, at 3:05 on Saturday.
While the Panthers have competed well with some tough teams, they haven't pulled out a win. EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said the team doesn't necessarily need a win right now though, but the team does really want one.
"When you get into talking about needing to get wins, that's when it almost gets more panicky to me," Spoonhour said. "Everybody is wanting to win. Needing to win a game means, if you don't win it, you don't get to suit up the next day. And we will get to suit up the next day. It will be a great thing for us psychologically to close out a game. You can't pretend it's not happening. The guys know."
But Spoonhour does admit the losses are getting frustrating, not just because the team is falling short, but because the Panthers had a chance to close out two or three of the games they lost.
"As frustrated as I am or a fan is watching it, the guys are equally frustrated, or even more so," Spoonhour said. "It's not an act of playing poorly, it's when we stop playing. We stop and hope it will work out and you can't ever do that. I think if we get into the deal where we keep battling and playing all of the time instead of worrying about winning and losing and go out and compete, that's how the team's going to figure out how to win."
Spoonhour knows how talented his team is, especially with four seniors who see starting or key minutes for the team. But he also knows the team just can't show up and go through the motions for portions of the game. They have to compete for a full 40 minutes to pull out the win.
"You can't lie to them and say it's going to be fine," Spoonhour said. "The reality is, the name of the game is you have to win. There's a lot of ways to look at it. You have to go out and think about doing your job. When you do that, you are going to end up with more points than the other guy. We do our job really well for a while, then we don't do our jobs at all, so the results are we haven't won. We know we are capable of winning and that's the key."
South Alabama is 5-5 on the season and has dropped its last two games, 87-58 at Florida International and 76-75 at SIU Edwardsville on Sunday. It's the first home game for the Jaguars since defeating Southern Mississippi 69-58 on Nov. 29.
The Jaguars average 65 points per game and are allowing 65.4 points a contest. Teams are only shooting 33.9 percent against South Alabama. Rodrick Sikes leads the team with 15.2 points per game, and Josh Ajayi is averaging 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
For EIU, Jajuan Starks is averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Montell Goodwin is averaging 10.4 points and Terrell Lewis is averaging 9.0 points and 4.8 assists per game. Muusa Dama is averaging 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds this season.
Dama pulled down double-figures rebounds for the first time this season against Green Bay with 10. After a slow start where he found himself in foul trouble in a good amount of games, Dama is rounding back into form and had three straight games of seven rebounds before grabbing 10 against Green Bay. Dama lead the Ohio Valley Conference in rebounding last season with 9.6 per game.
Spoonhour said Dama is playing better offensively, too.
"The shots that he's taken (lately), he's getting more makeable shots. He's staying closer to the basket, which allows him to rebound, and he's doing a good job defensively," Spoonhour said. "The biggest thing is he is staying on the floor because he's not fouling. It's easy for us to say stop fouling, but for him, you want to block every shot. I am telling him to rebound everything and block everything and don't foul – and that's all hard to do."