CHARLESTON – Now looking to Monday's game and beyond, Eastern Illinois forward Chris Olivier also tried to make a statement to one of the teams that saw him in the past.
“It was good being in the Missouri Valley again,” Olivier said after Friday's season-opening 64-53 loss at Missouri State. “This is as close to Northern Iowa as I'll get.”
Starting his first full season with EIU as a mid-year transfer from Northern Iowa last season, the 6-foot-8 forward is trying to build from Friday's positives in a 7 p.m. Monday home opener against NCAA Division III Eureka at Lantz Arena.
“Yeah, I'm ready,” Olivier said. “I've been locked in with this team. I don't want it to be like last year. This is a whole different team.”
Coming off an 11-19 season, the Panthers showed some encouraging signs in the loss at Missouri State.
EIU led the first 33 minutes against a Missouri State team that was 20-13 last season and picked third in this year's Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll.
“Man, I thought we had it,” Oliver said. “We were up at halftime and then their their guard really got going.”
He was speaking of Missouri State guard Marcus Marshall, who scored 20 of his 38 points in the Bears' second-half comeback to overtake EIU and Olivier, who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the first half.
“I had a good first half and then they doubled down on me and tried to keep it out of my hands,” Olivier said.
Monday's game does not look to be as formidable of a challenge for EIU, although some may remember that two years ago the Panthers lost a 59-56 game to NAIA Rochester at home.
Eureka won its opener 80-68 over Rockford on Saturday when senior forward Sam James scored 22 points hitting nine of 11 shots from the field, including both of his 3-point tries.
The Red Devils were 5-20 last season. Seth Wickert, a 6-foot-3 senior from Macomb, is the top returning scorer with 11.2 points per game last season.
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