NASHVILLE — Mack Smith hit a 3-pointer to give the Eastern Illinois men's basketball team a 38-37 lead against Tennessee State, and then the Panthers got a stop. Smith's 3-pointer might have been a sign of life for EIU's offense, but after getting the lead, the Panthers went almost 8 minutes without hitting another field goal.
The Panthers did hit seven free throws in that span to keep the game with TSU close, and Montell Goodwin hit a runner to end the drought, pulling EIU within two at 49-47 with 40 seconds left.
EIU forced Delano Spencer into a five-second violation on TSU's next possession, but the Panthers couldn't find a way to score again. Smith's 3-point attempt rattled out, and Christian Mekowulu hit a free throw to give the Tigers a 50-47 victory.
"They're a very good defensive team. It is difficult to get anything other than a jump shot," EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. "And I thought both teams really did a good job of contesting shots."
EIU falls to 7-14 overall and 3-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Tennessee State picked up a key OVC victory and is 10-11 overall and 5-5 in the OVC.
"We just have to complete a few more plays when we get the ball around the basket," Spoonhour said. "We did a much better job of taking care of the ball than our first meeting."
TSU had a 46-45 lead when Kamar McKnight missed a 3-pointer. The ball hit the ground and Mekowulu won a scramble for the ball and put it back up for the score. He was fouled and made the free throw to give TSU a 49-45 lead with 45 seconds left. Mekowulu finished with a double-double with 27 points and 10 rebounds. He was 11-of-15 from the free-throw line.
Goodwin made his runner with 40 seconds left to make it 49-47. EIU then got the ball back on the five-second violation. Smith got an open look at the top of the key, but it rolled out. Mekowulu missed his first free throw but made his second to make it 50-47 with 6.7 seconds left.
EIU got the ball to about midcourt when TSU tried to foul. Ray Crossland took a shot thinking he was getting fouled, but it wasn't called and the ball went out of bounds with 1.1 seconds left. TSU ran out the clock to get the win.
Smith was the only EIU player in double figures with 17 points. EIU shot 29.2 percent (14-of-48) in the game, and the Panthers were 5-of-19 from behind the arc. EIU was 14-of-14 from the free-throw line.
"When you're not shooting well, you've got to get to the free-throw line more and get more putbacks," Spoonhour said.
Sophomore Logan Koch made his first collegiate start and had 6 points before suffering an injury in the first half. He didn't return, and he was on crutches with his foot wrapped.
EIU hosts Jacksonville State on Thursday and Tennessee Tech on Saturday.