Eastern head coach Matt Bollant channeled the story of Walt Disney’s rise to success into a pregame speech to his team, encouraging his players to continue believing in themselves until that belief translated into production on the court; and it did Saturday at Lantz Arena, where the Panthers picked up their biggest win of the season.
Eastern used the parallels it found in the Disney story of him failing before he eventually succeeded and outplayed Evansville in almost every way possible on its way to picking up the first win of the season in a 79-52 blowout win.
Eastern finished the game with five players in double-digit scoring, led by Grace Lennox with 14, and outdid the Purple Aces in almost every statistical category, the biggest of which was 3-point shooting.
It was clear early on in the game that Evansville was going to be content letting Eastern shoot the 3-point shot at will.
Eastern began the game just 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, and after its last game where the Panthers were just 5-for-25 in three-point shooting, Evansville saw no need to waste energy in closing in on the Eastern shooters as it allowed the Panthers to take most of their early 3s uncontested.
The Purple Aces' strategy proved to work early on as Eastern finished the first half just 4-for-21 from 3-point range, many of the misses coming off wide-open looks.
Despite their poor shooting in the first half, the Eastern defense held Evansville to just five points in the second quarter, and the Panthers took a 30-23 lead into halftime.
Coming out of the locker room in the third quarter, Eastern continued to shoot the 3-point shot in high volume with little resistance from the Evansville defense. The difference this time was the shots were falling for Eastern.
Eastern shot 8-for-17 from 3-point range in the second half and finished 12-of-38 for the game. Evansville was just 2-of-17 shooting the 3.
Bollant said the biggest difference in 3-point shooting Saturday versus the team’s first two games was he had more players on the court who could shoot.
Eight different players overall made at least one 3-pointer for Eastern.
“I think once we started hitting (the 3s) it just kept making our confidence go up and up so then that helped us a lot,” freshman Taylor Steele said.
The Panthers had a season-high 47 rebounds in the game, including 19 on the offensive end that translated to 13 second-chance points. Evansville had just 32 total rebounds.
Sophomore Danielle Berry led the rebounding attack for Eastern: she finished with eight total rebounds, five on the offensive end and added eight points in what was her best game of the year so far.
“I was just feeding off the energy of my teammates, and I think defensively we were all talking and communicating, having a lot more fun than we usually do on defense and that really helped out offensively,” Berry said.
Evansville has struggled rebounding already this season, and that was something Bollant wanted to capitalize on coming into the game.
“(Rebounding) was certainly something we saw on the (scouting report). They (Evansville) got outrebounded their last game, and I just felt like the last two teams were so good on their transition offense, this is a game we can go to the offensive boards,” Bollant said. “And it's hard to do sometimes. (Danielle Berry) went back on defense to now crashing, and for her to have five offensive boards and for everyone to go rebound – I thought Halle (Stull) gave us some extra looks, and Grace (McRae) and Jennifer (Nehls) – to just get those extra looks really helped us offensively.”
The win moves Eastern’s record to 1-2 on the season. The next game will be against St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia Nov.25.
“(The win) gives us a little credibility and makes us realize we can do this, we’re in the ballpark and if we get better and grow, then it could be exciting what we could do in the OVC if we can continue to grow,” Bollant said.