CHARLESTON — The Eastern Illinois men's basketball team has one last non-conference game before Ohio Valley Conference play starts on Thursday, Dec. 28, at Murray State. The Panthers host Saint Francis, an NAIA program from Joliet, in a 1:30 p.m. game on Thursday at Lantz Arena.
There's $2 general admission tickets for Thursday's matinee.
The game comes at an interesting time for EIU, which is 3-7 on the season – and all three wins have come at Lantz Arena. The Panthers are coming off a comeback one-point win over Western Illinois on Tuesday that snapped a four-game losing streak. So the Panthers are hoping Tuesday's win over a seven-win Leathernecks squad shows they are turning the corner.
Plus the start of conference play is against an always tough Murray State team on the Racers home court. The Racers are 7-3 overall. Then EIU faces Austin Peay two days later and the Governors are 5-6 overall, but just defeated Troy by two points on Tuesday. So it's a tough road start to the OVC season for the Panthers.
But EIU can't overlook Saint Francis, which is 5-8 on the season. The Panthers need to continue to build momentum after the win over Western Illinois, so they can't afford a letdown a week before the conference opener.
"There's a certain level of just being sound and serious that we sometimes lack and it happens within games for us and sometimes in practice," EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. "If we keep our concentration and commit to what we are doing, we are a pretty good team. We just lose it too easily. There was a spurt where we played really hard defensively and did some good things against Western Illinois."
Spoonhour added that without four-year point guard Terrell Lewis, who is out with an ankle injury, EIU has to continue to focus on defense and rebounding.
Jorden Thornton leads Saint Francis with 13.3 points per game. Iain Morison is averaging 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and Terrion Howard is averaging 10.5 points per game.
With Lewis out, junior guard D'Angelo Jackson started his second game at point guard. Lewis won't be back for Thursday's game. Jackson had some issues in his first start against South Alabama, but he looked more comfortable in the role on Tuesday against WIU. Jackson finished with a career-high 19 points and had six assists and five rebounds. Jackson had only two 3-pointers on the season and hit two in the game against WIU. He was also shooting under 60 percent from the free-throw line and hit 7-of-10 from the line against WIU. He's attempted 55 free throws this season.
"D'Angelo is definitely capable. Individual players have to figure out for themselves, what can I do and what does coach what me to do," Spoonhour said. "There's a lot going out there that people don't realize. I was happy for him that he was able to have success in a game we won."
Jajuan Starks leads EIU with 12.4 points per game. Montell Goodwin, who scored 23 points against Western Illinois, is averaging 11.7 points per game and Muusa Dama, who had 21 points against WIU, is averaging 10.2 points per game.