CHARLESTON — When the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team took on Austin Peay in the second Ohio Valley Conference game of the season, the Governors were still an unknown.
The Governors did have a win over SIU Edwardsville to start OVC play, but before league play, Austin Peay was 5-7 overall, and their results varied from good to bad, which wasn’t all that surprising. Austin Peay had a new head coach, Matt Figger, who took over after longtime coach Dave Loos retired. Plus the Governors had plenty of roster turnover.
EIU got a good look at the Governors when they traveled to Clarksville, and Austin Peay pulled away in the second half for a 70-54 win.
The Governors haven’t slowed down since, and everyone now knows just how good Austin Peay is. The Governors are tied for third place in the OVC with Jacksonville State as both teams have 9-4 league records and are two games behind Murray State and Belmont. Austin Peay is 14-11 overall.
But the Governors are also 3-9 away from Clarksville, and all four of their OVC losses have been on the road (Belmont, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Murray State). Austin Peay is coming off an 84-64 loss to Murray State on Thursday and has another road game on Saturday as the Governors take on EIU, which is 9-15 overall and 5-8 in the OVC, at 3:15 p.m. at Lantz Arena.
The Panthers are coming off a 78-74 win at SIUE on Thursday and are currently sitting in seventh place in the OVC.
“Austin Peay has good players and (Averyl) Ugba has been really something for them and Terry (Taylor) has been a great, great freshman in this league,” EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. “Ugba’s last few games have been really good.”
Taylor leads Austin Peay with 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He is shooting 55.4 percent from the field. Ugba, a forward, is averaging 15.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He is shooting 55.1 percent from the field. Dayton Gumm is averaging 10.7 points per game.
With Ugba and Taylor, the Governors are third in the OVC in rebounding margin at plus-4.3 per game. Austin Peay is averaging 36.6 rebounds per game and is first in the OVC with 13.8 offensive rebounds a game.
In the first game against EIU, Austin Peay outrebounded the Panthers 46 to 29. Taylor and Ugba both had 11 rebounds each and Gumm had seven.
“They really, really rebound the ball and just play really hard,” Spoonhour said. “They play like you would think one of Matt Figger’s teams would play. They were really able to rebound the ball on us and boxed us out and were tougher than us.”
The first game against Austin Peay was also one of the first without point guard Terrell Lewis, who is out for the season with an ankle injury. Early in the game, D’Angelo Jackson, who took over point guard duties at the time, injured his ankle and has been out since. He is doubtful for Saturday’s game.
So EIU played without its top two point guards in the game, but Spoonhour said it wasn’t a fluke with how tough Austin Peay played the Panthers.
The Panthers are starting to play better offensively. They are coming off back-to-back games where they scored 79 and 78 points. Montell Goodwin is averaging 14.5 points per game, including 16.7 in OVC play, and has hit 34 3-pointers in league play. Mack Smith is averaging 10.6 points per game, including 12.7 in OVC play, and has hit 31 3-pointers in league play.
Spoonhour said players are starting to figure out their roles better now and are getting better at ball movement.
“Like with Ray (Crossland), he figured out the importance of popping out, catching it and then moving the ball right away. That’s what we need as much as anything,” Spoonhour said. “Maybe it wasn’t as important two months ago, but it is now. We can’t score if we don’t move the ball. Before (Lewis) and D’Angelo got her, we could screen and moved the ball off the dribble, but we can’t do that now.
“I like where (our offense) is now, but it still has to get better.”