CHARLESTON — The Jacksonville State women's basketball team doesn't have anyone in the top 15 in the Ohio Valley Conference in steals. Rayven Pearson and Tasha Magruder both have 17 steals on the season, so less than one steal per game.
The Gamecocks (13-8, 7-3) also don't have anyone in the top five in blocks. Tyler Phelion and Rayven Pearson are both in the top 10, with 43 blocks total this season.
Even though there's not one individual tearing up two of the main defensive categories in the OVC, the Gamecocks have the top defense in the conference. JSU allows only 56.4 points per game, which is the best in the conference, and opponents are only shooting 36.6 percent from the field, including only 25.9 percent from 3-point range. Both are the best marks in the OVC. Plus JSU is second in the OVC in blocked shots with 105, meaning Phelion and Pearson make up less than half of JSU's blocks combined.
So for the Gamecocks, defense is a team effort, according to Eastern Illinois coach Matt Bollant.
"I think they take a lot of pride in their defense. It's the identity of their program, and they have a toughness to them," Bollant said. "Defense matters to them and it's important."
The Panthers (2-19, 1-9) have to find a way to crack the Gamecocks' defense on Thursday for a 5:15 p.m. tipoff at Lantz Arena.
EIU's offense is almost the complete opposite of JSU's. The Panthers are only scoring 58.7 points per game, the second-lowest mark in the OVC, and are last in the league with a 35.6 shooting percentage. The Panthers are third-to-last in the OVC with a 29.9 3-point percentage.
"I think one, you have to be disciplined," Bollant said. "Do the little things. Set screens. Hope our posts step up and shoot it to make Pearson guard the perimeter."
Freshman forward Grace McRae is returning to the starting lineup for the Panthers for junior guard Carmen Tellez. McRae has five 3-pointers on the season and sophomore forward Jennifer Nehls has 16 three-pointers on the season.
The offense is going to start with freshmen guards Taylor Steele and Karle Pace. Both have been the two players offensive for EIU in OVC play. Pace is coming off a 31-point performance against Tennessee State and was named the Co-OVC Freshman of the Week. She is averaging 6.7 points per game, but is averaging 11.5 points per game in conference play.
Steele is averaging 9.7 points per game this season but is averaging 12.9 points per game in OVC play. Steele was held to 11 points in the last two games total and Bollant thinks she is ready to bounce back.
"I challenged Taylor to be consistent and she didn't have a great road trip," Bollant said. "I told her to do the things that make her great and I think she will play better at home. It's hard for a freshman to be consistent, but we need her to be consistent."
Offensively, Jacksonville State is average. The Gamecocks are averaging 64 points per game and are shooting 38.4 from the field, including 32.1 percent from behind the arc. The Gamecocks don't have a single player averaging double figures. Pearson leads JSU with 8.8 points per game.
"They have all kinds of different strengths, so take away those," Bollant said. "We have to keep them off the offensive boards and keep them from getting anything easy."