PEORIA — Coming into Friday’s game against Bradley, Eastern Illinois coach Jay Spoonhour said teams play in cycles, and he thought his team was in the midst of a good cycle. He was hoping it wasn’t the end of a good cycle.
Offensively, it was. Bradley has hung its hat on defense this season, and the Panthers’ offense didn’t have an answer to the Braves defense.
The Panthers shot only 32.8 percent (19-of-58) and lost to Bradley 67-56.
“They are a really good defensive team and there’s no secret about that,” EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. “They just don’t give you anything and they did a great job of doing what it is they are good at. We did a good job of rebounding with them and got 15 offensive rebounds. They got more because we shot it so awful.”
Jajuan Starks averaged 16.8 points per game coming into the contest and scored 27 points against Marquette on Monday.
However, the Braves made a concerted effort to take Starks out of the game. Starks was only 1-of-8 from the field and finished with four points.
“We did a good job on Starks. We set a good tone with that,” Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. “We didn’t want Starks to beat us, and we definitely had to guard the three-point line with (Terrell) Lewis and (Montell) Goodwin. I thought we did a decent job there.”
It was the only time this season Starks hasn’t scored in double-digits.
“They guarded him well,” Spoonhour said. “That’s the thing I told him, that’s what is going to happen now. You are going to start drawing attention. You aren’t going to be able to float around and get easy stuff. He’s had six really solid games. I thought that Bradley did a good job defending him and it’s something he has to get used to. And the other guys have to get used to helping him out.”
Lewis did finish with 13 points and went over the 1,000-career point mark, becoming the 37th player in EIU history to accomplish that feat.
EIU’s offense actually got off to a decent start as the Panthers hit four of their first seven shots to take a 10-7 lead 3 minutes in the game. But the offense struggled for the rest of the half.
The Panthers only hit five more field goals in the first half and were 8-of-31 (25.8 percent) in the half.
Bradley went on a 9-3 run to go up 16-13, and the lead grew to nine points at 25-16 with 4:28 left in the half.
Even though the offense struggled, the Panthers defense kept the game within reach in the first half. Bradley shot 45.8 percent (11-of-24) in the first half but didn’t have a single trip to the free-throw line and turned the ball over eight times.
The Panthers offense showed signs of life before halftime. Ray Crossland hit a jumper, Starks hit two free throws and Muusa Dama had a dunk to cut Bradley’s lead to 25-22 going into the half.
Bradley went back up by double digits to start the second half as EIU’s offense struggled again. The Braves went on a 10-2 run to go up 35-24.
“(The defense) was bad in the second half. They laid it in. They did a good job of attacking,” Spoonhour said. “The key is they laid it in and got offensive rebounds in the second half.”
D’Angelo Jackson started a run for EIU with a layup, and then Jajuan Starks, who came averaging 16.8 points per game, made his first shot. EIU then went 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to cut Bradley’s lead to 35-33 with 13:08 left.
But Bradley’s offense went on a spurt to go up big again, this time with a 9-0 run for a 44-33 lead with 12:09 left. Goodwin was called for a flagrant foul during the run, which helped the Braves extend the lead.
“It was a five-point game and before it comes back, it’s 11,” Spoonhour said. “I would say that hurts.”
The Braves kept a decent lead on EIU. The Panthers did cut it to seven points with 1:38 left at 61-54, but Bradley went 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to seal the game at 67-56.