CHARLESTON -- It was a tough lesson for the Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team to learn. While the Panthers played well defensively - holding North Texas to 37.3 percent (19-of-51) shooting and forcing 22 turnovers - the defense let EIU down at the two most inopportune time.
With EIU holding a two-point lead with only a few seconds remaining, North Texas got a good look in the lane and even though Terriell Bradley missed the shot, she got her own rebound and put it in to tie the game at 55, forcing overtime.
Then with only 2 seconds on the clock on overtime, EIU coach Matt Bollant told his team what North Texas probably planned to do. North Texas did exactly that and Bradley had a open jumper and knocked it down at the buzzer to give the Mean Green a 63-61 win.
The Panthers (1-9) just fell a play or two short of snapping what is now a seven-game losing streak.
“We needed a few more to step up and play with courage and make some plays,” Bollant said. “I was really disappointed with the last play in regulation. We stood around and watched her take a shot, didn’t block anybody out, didn’t pursue the ball. Then we watched a girl shoot a layup instead of blocking it and being aggressive.
“We haven’t been in that situation a lot. It was good for them to play in a close game and we got a little tight on the defensive end where I would rather see them be more aggressive.”
Bollant said he even diagrammed North Texas’ last play, but the Panthers didn’t transition on the screen in order to contest the shot.
“I don’t think (Danielle Berry) saw it and I am not sure whose girl set (the screen), but we should've been switching,” Bollant said. “I told them (Bradley) is going to come off a curl during the timeout, so it’s pretty disappointing not to be able to guard it when we told them that’s what they were going to do.”
So what could’ve been a win turned into a learning experience for the Panthers.
“It’s definitely a learning experience because we had a lot of turnovers,” said EIU freshman guard Taylor Steele, who had a career-high 21 points. “We just have to play smarter in our next close game and just work on finishing.”
Defensively, the Panther played physical with North Texas, which took the Mean Green out of their offense for a good portion of the game.
“We played smart, we knew who the shooters were and who wasn’t,” Bollant said. “I was really proud of carrying out the gameplan and knowing which kids we could help on and doing a good job switching and keeping (Bradley) in front for the most part.”
Even though the defense gave up a couple of key plays, EIU’s offense wasn’t consistent enough throughout the game.
North Texas (8-3) came into the game forcing 21 turnovers a game, so EIU was only slightly above the average with 22 turnovers.
But Bollant said his team forced too many passes that turned into easy steals for North Texas.
“The 10 in the first half were aggressive takes, but the second half, just not making the easy pass,” Bollant said. “We are cutting and it’s not there. That’s just the inexperience, trying to force a play when it wasn’t there and we two or three of those in overtime or the fourth quarter.”
Plus EIU started to force a few too many 3-pointers. While the Panthers did hit a few big three’s, once they did, they started to rely on the shots from behind the arc too much.
EIU finished the game 9-of-30 from behind the arc and 58 percent of the shot the Panthers took were from three-point range.
“We were 3-of-8 in the third quarter, which isn’t bad,” Bollant said. “First half, we shot too many. First quarter, we were 1-for-8. That’s what I said, when it’s not going well, quit looking for that. If you are missing three’s, you shouldn’t be looking for that. It’s hard because we want them to believe the next one is going in and some were completely wide open, but play to your strengths and if something’s not going, adapt.”
The Panthers did have some good moments offensively. With EIU down by nine points in the second quarter, Halle Stull came off the bench and scored 11 points during a 15-2 run to give the Panthers a 24-20 lead.
Stull finished with a season-high 16 points in the game.
“When we were down and lacking offense and needed someone to make a play, she definitely did,” Bollant said.
With EIU needed a bucket to at least tie the game, Bollant drew up a play for Steele in the corner and she hit the three and was fouled. She made the free throw to make it 55-53 with 11 seconds left in regulation.
But then EIU allowed the North Texas bucket to send the game into overtime.
“It was drawn up and I knew I had to hit it right then and there,” Steele said. “She had a tough shot, but then we didn’t box anyone out and she got an easy rebound and putback.”
EIU had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Berry’s runner ran across the rim. Grace McRae grabbed the rebound, but her layup attempt missed, sending the game to overtime.
Steele tied the game at 61 in overtime with a layup, but then the Panthers couldn’t get the stop it needed as Bradley hit the jumper for the game-winner.