CHARLESTON — When the season started, Eastern Illinois men's basketball coach Jay Spoonhour felt comfortable with what everyone's role on the team would be.
Senior point guard Terrell Lewis was looking to become the first Panther in the 1,000-point, 500-assist club. Senior Montell Goodwin would start at the two after a solid junior season. Senior Ray Crossland was once again the team's defensive stopper. Senior Muusa Dama was going to be the defensive presence down low. Junior college transfers D'Angelo Jackson and Jajuan Starks would fill the role left by Demetrius McReynolds and freshman Mack Smith could provide scoring off the bench.
Roles have changed quite a bit since. Lewis went down with a season-ending ankle injury against Green Bay on Dec. 6. Jackson moved over to point guard and injured his ankle on Dec. 30 against Austin Peay and has been out since. He could return soon. The redshirt was pulled on sophomore Logan Koch and he became the backup point guard, but he suffered a season-ended Achilles injury on Jan. 11.
So things have changed a bit and Spoonhour went with a completely different rotation against Tennessee Tech on Saturday. Lucas Jones, who only averaging 10.4 minutes per game and played in 17 of the 22 games, started for Starks and Aboubacar Diallo, who made two previous starts this season, got the nod over Dama. Shawn Wilson, who was the team's manager last season and walked on this season, saw more time as the backup guard.
All three played so well that Spoonhour couldn't take them off the court. Jones played 28 minutes, scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds. Wilson played 27 minutes, scored five points and had six assists. Diallo played 26 minutes, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Their play helped open up Mack Smith, who scored a freshman single-game record 31 points, and Montell Goodwin, who scored 23 points and had six assists, as the Panthers had one of their best offensive performances during Ohio Valley Conference play in a 79-71 win over Tech on Saturday.
Wilson came into the season as the team's fourth point guard, but Spoonhour said the Panthers don't win that game without the walk-on.
"Shawn is a good ball-handler. He defends, he's quick, he got through screens and he was able to guard guys," said Spoonhour on Saturday. "He's going to make mistakes. He hasn't played in four years. What he did is what we needed. He moves the ball and he doesn't try and do too much. He picked the exact right times to try and do something. I am happy for him."
Wilson won't have the chance to do the same thing, though. He suffered a hand injury late in the game and came out. On Sunday, the hand swelled up and he had X-rays taken. By Monday, Spoonhour confirmed that Wilson broke his hand and he will miss the rest of the season.
Jones played a key role against Tech's Courtney Alexander. Jones' job was to keep Alexander off the offensive glass. Alexander did have five offensive rebounds, but Spoonhour was happy with how Jones kept Alexander in check. Jones also started the game with a three-pointer.
"It's nice to make a shot right off the bat. Alexander, the guy he was guarding a lot of the time is a great offensive rebounder. He got five, but LJ did a darn good job," Spoonhour said. "It's a physical taxing game for Lucas. He fought his tail off and tried and we needed it because we've been looking for guys that play as a group."
Diallo and Jones limited Tech's points in the paint. A good portion of Tech's points came from behind the arc as the Golden Eagles made 12 three-pointers. But they only had 10 points in the paint and EIU outrebounded the Golden Eagles 37 to 29.
"(Diallo) did a good job. They made it hard on them to make it. That's LJ and (Diallo) keeping guys off the glass," Spoonhour said. "LJ and (Diallo), there's things they can't do, but they don't try and do too much. (Diallo) has one turnover and LJ had three in the first half, but he doesn't try and do too much."
Now the key is to keep it up when the team travels to SIU Edwardsville on Thursday. EIU will be looking for a solution to losing Wilson, but as Smith said, everyone on the team trusts each other.
"Coach harps on us on playing hard, being consistent and don't get down on ourselves and keep fighting through," Smith said. "We always got faith in our guys that come in the game. They are ready, focused and can make big plays. We were just having fun out there and we looked like a team."