MOBILE, Ala. — The Eastern Illinois men's basketball team was dealt a loss even before the game at the University of South Alabama started on Saturday. It wasn't in the win-loss column, but it was quite a blow to the Panthers.
Senior point guard Terrell Lewis, who has started 100 straight games, missed the game, and could possibly miss more, due to an ankle injury he suffered in the loss to Green Bay on Dec. 6.
Even though the Panthers practiced without him, they had to figure out life without Lewis, who is only the ninth player in Ohio Valley Conference history with 1,000 points and 500 assists. That meant taking the redshirt off sophomore point guard Logan Koch, and senior shooting guard Montell Goodwin had to handle the ball more.
South Alabama made its own adjustment, too. With Lewis, the Panthers haven't been pressed often throughout the past four seasons because Lewis broke the press easily. Without Lewis, it's a different story. The Jaguars pressed EIU, which led to some turnovers.
The Panthers finished the game with only four assists and with 19 turnovers, which South Alabama turned into 25 points. EIU also only shot 32.3 percent (21 of 65) from the field. So even though EIU held South Alabama to 63 points, the Panthers offense couldn't keep up and lost to the Jaguars 63-52 on Saturday to fall to 2-7 on the season.
In his radio interview after the game, EIU head coach Jay Spoonhour said losing Lewis, who will probably miss both games next week against Western Illinois on Tuesday and Saint Francis on Thursday, "changes a lot."
"He's played basically every minute in the last 100 games and because of him, no one presses us," Spoonhour said. "He just goes right through it. Now you can get ready because everyone will press us now, which isn't a bad thing. We just need to get better at it. It gives you a chance to score."
EIU was able to break the press at times, but the Panthers couldn't convert offensively. For much of the game, EIU failed to convert around the rim, whether it was from breaking the press or breaking South Alabama's zone defense.
"When we did break it, we couldn't get any buckets," Spoonhour said. "We had opportunities. We got in there and it's almost like, stuff that could've been layups turned into five- or six-foot jumpers. You're not going to win college games if you can't score around the basket. They stole it from us 11 times, and we only gave up 63 points. We have to go make plays, and everybody is going to press us now. You can use it as a weapon and take it at them. That's what we need to do."
Almost everyone contributed to the 19 turnovers. No player had more than three turnovers, but four players – D'Angelo Jackson, Jajuan Starks, Muusa Dama and Koch – all had three turnovers. Only two players – Justice Green and Aboubacar Diallo – didn't have a turnover.
"We can't have everyone on the team turning it over," Spoonhour said. "We are trying to make up for not having T. It will get figured out. They will keep working on it."
Spoonhour said Lewis' ankle injury is a high-grade sprain and that they will "be without him for a while."
Ray Crossland hit a 3 to begin the game, but South Alabama went up 12-5 early in the game before the Panthers made it 12-10. EIU kept it close at 23-21, but five straight turnovers helped South Alabama, which improved to 6-5, build a 29-21 lead before a bucket by Montell Goodwin right before the half made it 29-23.
The Jaguars jumped out quickly on EIU in the second half and went up 40-27. EIU cut it to 40-30 when a 7-0 run by the Jaguars made it 47-30. EIU cut the lead down to 47-34 but couldn't make another run. The Panthers eventually got the lead under double digits at 59-50, but there were only 23 seconds left and South Alabama when on to win 63-52.
Crossland led EIU with 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Goodwin finished with 11 points, and Dama had nine points and 17 rebounds.
"Ray did a good job defending and the guy he was guarding is good. Ray takes assignments like that and does a good job," Spoonhour said. "The big thing is, he got seven rebounds and Dama gets 17. That's the stuff that Muusa has been doing a good job of lately."
EIU returns home for a game against Western Illinois at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.