CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois men’s basketball coach Jay Spoonhour had a simple request for the team’s game against Fontbonne University, an NCAA Division III team. He just wanted to see the team play together for a full 40 minutes.
The team took Spoonhour’s advice to heart as they came out hard right from the opening tip. The Panthers didn’t take the D-III school lightly and jumped out to an 11-0 lead, never letting the Griffins in the game. EIU scored 56 points by halftime and went on to win 96-44 to improve to 2-3 on the season.
“It went exactly like I wanted. I thought we played hard, we were serious,” Spoonhour said. “That’s the thing you worry about, guys losing concentration and picking up bad habits, doing the wrong thing. Right now the issue with our team is concentration. A game like this, when you get a lead like this, it just lends instead to guys just taking off and going one-on-one-on-one, which we have been bad about and we have to stop it. We aren’t very good at that.
“We are trying to remedy that and I thought everyone concentrated well and did right.”
Spoonhour tweaked the lineup a bit and started freshman Mack Smith and junior Aboubacar Diallo. It was the first career start for both players and they combined on the first points of the game. Diallo pulled down an offensive rebound and passed to a cutting Smith for an easy layup.
“We just needed to mix stuff up. Needed to change things, try and get guys thinking along the same line,” Spoonhour said. “I wanted to start the game with good ball-handling and good defense. This one was fine, but I want guys to bring it every day in practice and do a bit better in practice. If you go out and play well, I am going to get you in there.”
The Panthers opened with an 11-0 lead, and Fontbonne didn’t score until the 16:03 mark of the half. The Griffins did go on a 4-0 run, but that was the only time in the first half that Fontbonne put together any type of run.
By the 11:03 mark of the first half, EIU had a 22-6 lead. Smith scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting with two of the shots coming from behind the arc. But on the defensive end, he got tied up with a Fontbonne player and injured his shoulder. He came out of the game and later returned to the bench with his shoulder wrapped in ice.
“He’s bounced back from it so many times, but there’s only so many times that you can bounce back from it,” Spoonhour said. “He just keeps separating it. He hadn’t separated it in the last two months. He looked great; he was playing the game with some confidence. Here he made his first four and was playing well, so it’s something he can bounce back from.”
Fontbonne got a layup to make it 22-8, but Muusa Dama, who came off the bench in the game, got a bucket down low and it started a 13-0 run for the Panthers. Montell Goodwin hit two 3-pointers during the run.
The Panthers defense made it a difficult half for Fontbonne as the Griffins only shot 21.4 percent (6-of-28) and forced 11 turnovers. EIU scored 17 points off turnovers and scored 34 points in the first half as the Panthers went into halftime with a 56-18 lead.
The second half went almost like the first. Fontbonne did shoot 45 percent in the second half, but still 10 turnovers that EIU turned into 15 points.
The Panthers also shot 58.6 percent (17-of-29) in the second half and finished 61.3 percent for the game as EIU cruised to the 95-44 win.
“I like the way we approach every day, I just want us to get a little bit more juice to our game, more intensity, more concentration. It isn’t bad, but it needs to be a little bit better,” Spoonhour said. “I thought guys played smart, concentrated all the way through. I was happy with it.”