The Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team opens Ohio Valley Conference play against one of the top players in the conference: Murray State’s Ke'Shunan James.
James is third in the OVC with 19.2 points per game and third in the OVC in rebounds, with 8.5 per game. She is also in the top 10 with 3.8 assists per game.
“She really makes them go. The ball is in her hands a lot,” EIU coach Matt Bollant said. “She is a good passer, which is rare for a big kid and she is really athletic. WNBA-type of athleticism with good quickness and good strength. We have to find her and limit her the best we can.”
Bollant sees the start of OVC play as a new start to the season. The Panthers come in with a 1-10 record but are 0-0 in the OVC.
“We are 0-0 going into conference play. It’s a clean slate, so we have to take advantage of it,” Bollant said. “I am excited to start OVC play.”
Murray State comes into Thursday’s OVC opener, which tips at 5 p.m. at the CFSB Center in Murray, Kentucky, with a 4-7 record and has won two of its last three games. The loss was to Alabama, and Murray State beat Mississippi Valley State and North Carolina-Greenville.
After James, Bria Bethea averages 14.5 points per game, and Abria Gulledge contributes 10.9 points a contest.
As a team, Murray State is averaging 66.4 points per game, but they are only shooting 38.4 percent from the field.
The Panthers are allowing 74.7 points per game and teams are shooting 46 percent against them, which is the worst allowed shooting percentage in the OVC.
Bollant feels EIU’s defense was solid against North Texas and hopes the Panthers bring that same defensive play against the Racers.
“I thought (at) North Texas, we played well (defensively). Valparaiso, second half we weren’t that good, but first half we were,” Bollant said. “We’ve been up and down, but our defense is growing and certainly the girls are playing hard. We just have to be more consistent.”
EIU is 1-10 and is on an eight-game losing streak. It is the fourth game without leading scorer Grace Lennox, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
The Panthers are only averaging 59.5 points per game and are coming off a loss to Northwestern where they scored only 40 points. EIU is last in the OVC with a 35.5 shooting percentage.
“We struggled in the first quarter (against Northwestern) but after that, we played well,” Bollant said. “We got off to a bad start, and part of that was Northwestern. We have to get off to a better start and really help our confidence.”
Jennifer Nehls leads EIU with 7.7 points per game, and Taylor Steele is averaging 6.8 points per game.
The Racers are allowing 79.1 points per game, which is the worst in the OVC. Teams are shooting 45.4 percent against Murray State this season.
“They’ve played zone of late. They played man(-to-man) early in the season and press some,” Bollant said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some press against them. They are better offensively than defensively, so hopefully, we can do a better job on the offensive end, which will help us defensively.”