CHARLESTON — Throughout the season, the Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team has wilted in the fourth quarter. On Saturday against Tennessee Tech, it seemed like the Panthers might be bucking that trend. A layup by Danielle Berry and a 3-pointer by Taylor Steele gave the Panthers a 57-54 lead with 1:52 left in the game.
Those were the last two positive plays the Panthers made in the game, though.
EIU still had a 1-point lead with 19 seconds left, and all the Panthers needed to do was complete the inbounds play and wait to get fouled. Carmen Tellez’s inbounds went right to Abby Buckner.
The Golden Eagles pushed the ball down the court quickly, and a layup by Jordan Brock put Tech up.
EIU still had a chance with 11 seconds left when Steele drove in and laid the ball off to Grace McRae, but her layup attempt was too strong and didn’t hit the rim.
Tech got the rebound and took advantage of EIU’s mistakes down the stretch to pick up a 60-57 win, only the Golden Eagles' fifth win of the season and second in Ohio Valley Conference play.
EIU coach Matt Bollant said the team gave the game away at the end, but he also put the blame for the inbounds play on him.
"I take responsibility. We ran a play to try and score, thinking it might be there," Bollant said. "It wasn't there, but we threw the pass anyway. Looking back, I wish we would've ran something to just try and get it in. We didn't."
For the Panthers (2-21, 1-11), it was a crucial loss, because now the Panthers are still three games back of the No. 8 spot in the Ohio Valley Conference. A win would've put the Panthers two games back with six games to go. Now the door is about shut, and it's not the first time this season that the Panthers didn't pull through in the final quarter this season.
It feels even worse for the Panthers since they had a lead going into the final 30 seconds of the game.
"I thought Taylor's 3 was huge to give us the lead. She stepped up and made a play and we just didn't have enough of them," Bollant said. "Part of making plays is blocking out. We gave up nine offensive rebounds in the second half. Scoring 9 points in the fourth quarter at home is not very good."
EIU controlled much of the game. Tech (5-18, 2-10) only led for 4:18 in the game. But all it took was one run in the fourth quarter for the Panthers to start playing on their heels, allowing the Golden Eagles back into the game and giving them the ability to steal the game late.
"Toward the end, they went on a run and started getting hyped about it, and we didn't respond the way we needed to," sophomore guard Danielle Berry said. "We started to back off, but we needed to be more aggressive in that situation. We just have to be willing to sacrifice everything, sacrifice all we have left. We aren't quite there yet. We will get there."
Freshman Karle Pace led the Panthers in points for the third straight game. She finished with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but she only had 2 of those points in the fourth quarter as the offense stalled. EIU managed just 9 points in the fourth quarter with 4 of those coming early on to give the Panthers a 52-44 lead. EIU only shot 30.8 percent (4-of-13) in the fourth quarter.
"I feel like a lot of moments in the game led up to it," Pace said. "I think all of us are to blame. There's no certain situation or play that lost us the game."
EIU went on a 5-0 run at the end of the first quarter to take a 20-17 lead. The Panthers held onto the lead in the second quarter and were up by 9 points before going into halftime up 30-24.
The Panthers had an answer to almost every Tech score in the third quarter to keep a 48-44 lead going into the fourth. Then up 52-44, EIU went scoreless for almost 5 minutes, and Tech went on a 10-0 run to take a 54-52 lead.
Berry scored and then Steele hit a 3 to give EIU the lead again, 57-54, with 1:32 left. Yaktavia Hickson made two free throws to make it a 1-point game. Tellez drew a foul to reset the shot clock with 19 seconds left, but then the inbounds pass was stolen and Brock made the layup for the 58-57 lead.
EIU had one last chance, but McRae's layup wasn't close. Tech made two more free throws for the 60-57 win.
"We tried to run a ball screen for Karle, and (Tech) did a good job denying it," Bollant said. "Taylor was open and made a really good pass to (McRae). She probably rushed (the shot) a little bit, but got a pretty good look, a 4-foot shot."
EIU plays at SIU Edwardsville on Wednesday.