CHARLESTON — If the Eastern Illinois women's basketball team is going to have any chance to make it to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, the Panthers' game at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Lantz Arena against Tennessee Tech is critical. The loser of that game isn't eliminated from making the tournament, but the road to Evansville becomes probably too tough for either team.
Both EIU (2-20) and Tech (4-18) come into the game with 1-10 OVC records, but despite the rough seasons in conference play, both teams are three games out of the No. 8 seed. Granted, there are only seven games left, so a three-game hole is still a big one, especially with two teams — Murray State and Eastern Kentucky — tied for that spot. EIU and Tech are four games out of the No. 7 seed, which is occupied by Austin Peay at the moment.
"It is pretty important game if we are going to make the OVC Tournament," EIU coach Matt Bollant said. "We have to get going in the right direction, and it has to start (Saturday). We are doing a Fellowship of Christian Athletes day on Saturday, so it should be a good atmosphere."
Both teams are suffering through a six-game losing streak coming into Saturday's game. Tech's losses have been closer than EIU's, though. The Panthers lost by 9 points to Jacksonville State, the only one of the six losses that were under double digits. The Golden Eagles have lost two of their games by 2 points (Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State) and another by 4 points (Southeast Missouri State). Only one of the six losses has been by double digits, a 16-point defeat against UT Martin.
"They have lost a lot of close games. They just haven't been on the right side of it," Bollant said. "I think that's been their M.O. They have been in games, just haven't finished at the end."
Tech comes into the game with the third-worst scoring offense in the OVC at 59.7 points per game and is shooting 39.5 percent from the field. Still, the Golden Eagles have four players averaging double digits in points in conference play.
Jordan Brock is averaging 11.3 points per game this season and 13.5 in OVC play. Yaktavia Hickson is averaging 10.6 points per game on the season along with 5.7 rebounds a game. MacKenzie Coleman is averaging 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds this season, and in OVC play she is averaging 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Akia Harris is averaging 10.4 points per game in conference play.
"They have good guards, and they can score in a variety of ways," Bollant said. "The three guards are shooting over 40 percent from the field and are 37, 37.5 and 40 percent from 3(-point range). Their guards are talented."
EIU goes from facing the best defense in the OVC (Jacksonville State) to one that is in the middle of the pack with Tech, which is allowing 65.7 points per game. EIU struggled against the Gamecocks and is scoring only 58.2 points per game this season, but Bollant saw some good things out of the offense in Thursday's loss.
"We have to put up more points than 50, and part of that was Jacksonville State," Bollant said. "I want us to start the game better, and if we start well, we have a shot."
Taylor Steele is averaging 12.5 points per game in OVC play, and Karle Pace is averaging 11.5 points per game in league play.
EIU was without freshman Katrina Christian for the Jacksonville State game. She was redshirting but has decided to transfer.
"She wants to find someplace that she can play, and we wish her the best," Bollant said.