The Eastern Illinois women's basketball team seemed to be on its way to snapping a 10-game losing streak after taking a 16-point halftime lead against Morehead State. But the Panthers go into Saturday's game at Eastern Kentucky on an 11-game losing streak after Morehead State came back to beat EIU by 8 points.
Still, EIU coach Matt Bollant saw his team take a step forward against the Eagles.
"I thought we grew in the last game, and hopefully we will take another step forward and play well (Saturday)," Bollant said.
Now the Panthers, who are 1-13 overall and 0-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference, go from one of the most well-balanced teams in the conference to facing a team that's struggled to score points at times this season. EKU, which is 4-8 overall and 1-2 in the OVC, is only averaging 58.4 points per game this season, which is last in the OVC.
The Colonels were held to 60 points in their loss to SIU Edwardsville on Thursday, and it was only the fifth time this season EKU has scored 60 or more points. Two games ago, EKU scored a season-high 76 points in a win over Tennessee Tech, but the Colonels were coming off a 51-point showing to Jacksonville State in the previous game. EKU has been held under 50 points twice this season.
EKU was without Abby Wright against SIUE, who leads the Colonels with 14.6 points per game. It was reported that she was out with a sickness, so she should return against EIU on Saturday, which will make EKU's offense a bit more potent than it was against SIUE. Wright had 22 points in the win over Tech.
"They are definitely a better team, like Austin Peay is with Keisha Gregory," EIU coach Matt Bollant said. "Wright is leading them in scoring and is their best shooting. They have three to four kids that can score."
While Wright is the team's leading scorer, A'Queen Hayes is the do-all player for EKU. She is scoring 14.1 points per game to go along with a team-high 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Hayes had 26 points and 11 rebounds against SIUE.
"She's definitely a key. She kept them in that game without Wright," Bollant said. "She is important to their success. She plays the same role as Ke'Shunan James for Murray State. We have to know where she is and help early. If you don't rotate well, they hit others on the drives."
Despite averaging less than 60 points per game, EKU has held opponents to an average of 63.2 points per game, so the Colonels' defense has kept them in contests.
"They are physically gifted," Bollant said. "They are strong inside and have athletic guards."
EIU is only scoring 61.1 points per game, but the Panthers are coming off an 81-point showing against Morehead State. Jennifer Nehls led EIU with a career-high 24 points against the Eagles and was 10-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-4 from behind the arc.
"She was really confident and shot extremely well," Bollant said. "She scored in a variety of ways. We want to get her touches in different parts of the floor. We put in some set plays for her to get her good spacing and where she can make plays."