CHARLESTON — The Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team didn’t play defense for one quarter. That’s all it took for the Panthers to dig themselves a hole they couldn’t get out of.
Austin Peay shot 56.3 percent (9-of-16) from the field in the second quarter. The Governors hit three 3-pointers, were 8-of-8 from the free-throw line and only turned the ball over two times. By the end of the quarter, Austin Peay scored 29 points and had a 14-point lead.
The Panthers spent the rest of the game trying to dig out of that hole and were unable to as Austin Peay went on to win 75-66.
“We didn’t play good defense (that quarter). They shot 56 percent because we didn’t guard,” EIU coach Matt Bollant said. “We put some people on the floor like Carmen (Tellez) and Halle (Stull) who just refused to guard. I am not going to beat around the bush. Our defense was pathetic in the second quarter, and it cost us the game.
“It’s really frustrating because four of the last five games, we haven’t done that and today we chose to do it on our home court.”
The loss came despite Jennifer Nehls having one of her best games of the season for EIU (2-23, 1-3). Nehls finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and six steals, which is the most in a game by an EIU player this season. She also had no turnovers in the game.
“We’ve been asking her to change and to slow down and make the easy pass, and she had zero turnovers and four assists,” Bollant said. “I was very proud. It shows you are capable of changing. Jenn has changed and done a better job of taking care of the ball. I thought in the second half, she was by far our best defender and for the game, she was by far the best player and it wasn’t close.”
Nehls said it was necessary for her to change her game.
“It’s what he’s been asking me to do, so I just have to step up and do it,” Nehls said.
Austin Peay (14-11, 7-7) had an 8-6 lead midway through the first quarter when a 6-0 run gave the Governors a 14-6 advantage. EIU finished the first quarter on a 6-0 run. Brianne Alexander had four points during the run and finished the first quarter with 10 of Austin Peay’s 14 points.
“We did a much better job in the second half against her. Honestly, first quarter, it looked like that wasn’t our focus and it was completely our focus, double-teaming her and getting stops,” Bollant said. “We didn’t execute the game plan well guarding her.”
Stull hit a 3-pointer, and Nehls had a free throw and a turnaround jumper to cut Austin Peay’s lead to 14-12.
The Panthers tied the game at 14 to start the second quarter on a layup by Taylor Steele. Austin Peay got a 3-pointer from Bri Williams. Stull hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 17 with 8:21 left in the quarter.
Then Austin Peay took control and scored 29 points for a 43-29 halftime lead.
Austin Peay led 53-36 late in the second quarter when a layup by Danielle Berry and a 3 by Steele cut it to 12 with 1:40 left in the quarter and went into the fourth down 53-41.
The Panthers cut the lead down to 10 a few times at 59-49 with 6:41 left, but Keisha Gregory got a steal and a layup for a 12-point lead again. Gregory finished with 27 points in the game and was 9-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Once again, EIU got it to 66-56 with 2:23 left when Gregory made a layup and was fouled. She made the 3-point play for a 13-point lead.
“She drove around us on a regular basis and she is a good player,” Bollant said. “She can shoot the 3, gets foul shots. She’s a really complete player and hasn’t played like that every game and I am not sure why. Today she did and give her credit. She looked quick and explosive and we struggled to guard her for sure.”
The Panthers had one last chance and cut it to 69-60 with 1:21 left when Falon Baker hit a 3-pointer for Austin Peay for a 12-point lead again with 57 seconds left. The Governors went on to win 75-66.
“We basically dug ourselves too big of a hole,” Nehls said. “We can’t have a first half that soft because we definitely could’ve beat this team if we played as hard as we did in the second half.”
EIU is at Southeast Missouri State on Thursday for a 6:30 p.m. game.