When the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team travels to Edwardsville on Thursday, the Panthers will face an improved SIU Edwardsville team.
Even though the Cougars are still under .500 overall and in Ohio Valley Conference play, they’ve already taken a step forward compared to the last couple of season. SIUE is 8-15 overall after only winning 12 games combined the last two seasons.
The Cougars are also tied with Eastern for the No. 8 spot in the OVC with a 4-8 league record. The four wins in OVC play are equal to the same number of conference wins the Cougars had in the last two seasons combined.
One of the Cougars' OVC wins came against Jacksonville State on Saturday, and the Gamecocks were tied for third in the OVC going into the game. Plus SIUE picked up back-to-back OVC road wins for the first time in the OVC when the Cougars defeated Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky earlier this season.
So the Cougars present a good challenge for the Panthers (8-15, 4-8) on Thursday in Edwardsville for a 7 p.m. tip-off.
“I think they are playing really well lately. They beat Jacksonville State, which we know what kind of team they are, and they nearly beat Tennessee Tech,” EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. “We’ve kind of won the same games in the league since we both got those road wins at EKU and Morehead State They are playing well. For us, we need to handle the ball and not turn the thing over and get good looks every time. We gotta continue to guard.”
Jalen Henry missed three games this season for the Cougars, including one in conference play. He’s been the key player for SIUE this season, averaging 15.9 points per game and grabbing a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game. The 6-8, 220-pound forward has also hit 31 3-pointers, including 17 in OVC play. He’s shooting 40.3 from behind the arc this season and 42.9 from the field. He has 20 blocks this season.
“He’s a tough matchup for folks because he can shoot it and then go and post up,” Spoonhour said. “It’s hard to have one guy defend him. He had a huge game against EKU. The other guys, I’ve always liked (Christian) Ellis. They have solid guys.”
Daniel Kinchen is averaging 12.3 points per game, and Ellis has 84 assists on the season. David McFarland is averaging 11.6 points per game in OVC play.
The Panthers will once again be shorthanded at guard on Thursday. Fourth-string point guard Shawn Wilson, who is a walk-on this season and was the team’s manager last season, played 27 minutes and had six assists against Tennessee Tech on Saturday. It was a breakout game for him, but he won’t have a chance at a repeat because he broke his hand late in the contest and is out for the season.
Terrell Lewis and Logan Koch are out for the season, and D’Angelo Jackson, who suffered an ankle injury against Austin Peay about a month ago, is doubtful to return this week.
So Montell Goodwin, who leads the team with 14.3 points per game, including 16.3 in OVC play, will become the main ballhandler again.
“That and everybody will try and take turns, and everyone needs to do a little bit more,” Spoonhour said. “It just means Mack (Smith) has to do a good job defensively and he can’t get in foul trouble. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t run and some ways you can’t guard because you have to keep guys out of foul trouble.
“When you lose one-third of your team, you aren’t going to do things normally.”
Smith is averaging 10.5 points per game, including 12.8 points per game in OVC play. He has hit 29 3-pointers in OVC play and is coming off a 31-point performance in Saturday’s win over Tech. It is the freshman record for points in a game, surpassing Joey Miller’s 28-point game in 2012.
Jajuan Starks is averaging 10.3 points per game.
Spoonhour said the key offensively will be ball movement.
“The thing with Shawn, he got Silk off the ball and gave us some ball movement,” Spoonhour said. “In one game, he had an impact. It sort of showed the other guys how you can go out and have success by just doing simple plays. The practices have been good. Just make good, solid basketball plays.”