CHARLESTON -- The Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team has had its share of second half struggles this season. Thursday’s game against Jacksonville State was no exception.
For the first time in five games, EIU had a halftime lead, up 28-25, but the Gamecocks defense picked up in the second half. They forced EIU into one-on-one situations and the Panthers were unable to make enough plays.
After grabbing the lead back in the third quarter, JSU pulled away in the fourth quarter and held off any EIU run to grab a 59-50 victory over the Panthers at Lantz Arena on Thursday.
Unlike other second half collapses, EIU coach Matt Bollant didn’t question the team’s effort. He said JSU’s defense, which is the best defense in the Ohio Valley Conference, forced his team into tough situations.
“Jacksonville State stepped up and played better in the second half,” Bollant said. “We had a very good second quarter and then we didn’t have a good second half. They felt like they could guard us one-on-one and didn’t need help. We need to be able to get by and make some plays.
“But give them credit. Their defense was really good and I thought we fought and battled, we just didn’t make enough plays offensively.”
Despite the loss, Bollant found plenty to take away from the game, unlike other losses this season or even in the past few picks.
“I thought we played pretty hard. I just believe if you play hard, I can live with today a whole lot better,” Bollant said. “I felt like our energy was better today. Even the fourth quarter, we didn’t hang our head and we stayed with it. We’ve had some fourth quarters where we haven’t responded. Yeah there’s some things that we need to clean up.”
EIU (2-20, 1-10) fell behind big early as JSU (14-8, 8-3) took a 16-2 lead with 3:20 left in the first quarter.
“I don’t know if we started the game believing that we can do this. When you are at home, you have to set the tone,” Bollant said. “We had a great week of practice and had great energy and great belief, but we didn’t carry it over into the start of the game.”
Then EIU’s defense stepped up and held the Gamecocks without a point for an 8-minute stretch. The Panthers went on a 12-0 run to make it a 16-14 game with 6:48 left in the quarter.
JSU got its first bucket of the quarter at the 5:45 mark and the Gamecocks went on a 9-3 lead to go back up 25-17 with 3:01 left in the half.
EIU held JSU scoreless for the rest of the quarter and then the Panthers put up a run on the league’s best defense. Taylor Steele scored on a layup, then Carmen Tellez got a steal and a layup and then she hit a three-pointer as EIU trailed 25-24. Steele then hit two free throws to give EIU its first lead of the game at 26-25 with 46 seconds left in the first half.
JSU missed its shot and Karle Pace, who finished with 12 points, went the distance of the court and scored on a layup to give EIU a 28-25 lead going into halftime.
But the Panthers struggled at the start of the third quarter. EIU missed its first five shots - the Panthers did get a free throw from Danielle Berry - and found itself down 33-29. Still, a layup by Pace and a bucket by Grace McRae made it a two point game, 35-33, with 4:02 left. EIU only scored seven points in the quarter, but held JSU to only 13 points and was down 38-35 going into the fourth.
EIU couldn’t get stops or buckets to start the fourth quarter. JSU went on a 10-0 run and went up 48-35 with about 5 minutes left in the game.
“We just get into little spurts where we can’t score,” Pace said. “We let (Jacksonville State’s) scoring affect our offense.”
Pace made two free throws and then completed a traditional three-point play to pull EIU to 48-40, but two free throws and a three-pointer put the Gamecocks back up 53-40 with 2:54 left.
Back-to-back three’s by Berry and Pace made it 56-48 with 1:18 left, but EIU only scored two more points and lost 59-50.
EIU hosts Tennessee Tech at 1 p.m. on Saturday.