Eastern Illinois men's basketball coach Jay Spoonhour has always emphasized rebounding and defense. He stressed it even more when the team lost starting point guard Terrell Lewis to an ankle injury. Then it basically became the key thing EIU had to do once it lost another guard, D'Angelo Jackson, to an ankle injury.
Thursday's game against Morehead State proved just how key rebounding and defense are for the Panthers. EIU was held to 61 points against Morehead State on Thursday, but the Panthers outrebounded the Eagles 40 to 31 and held them to 38.3 percent shooting.
EIU beat Morehead State 61-52. Now the Panthers have to play the same way at Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.
"I think that will probably be the key for us the rest of the way, unless we find a way to score 90 points," Spoonhour said. "It's the way it is for almost anybody. You just need to play solid and play the game the right way."
EIU, which is 5-9 overall and 1-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference, plays at Eastern Kentucky (6-10, 0-3 OVC) at 3 p.m. on Saturday at McBrayer Arena in Richmond, Kentucky.
Even though EKU scored 82 points in a loss to SIU Edwardsville on Thursday, the Colonels were held to 69 points against Tennessee Tech and 58 points against Jacksonville State. EKU has only shot 40.5 from the field in the three OVC games and has been outrebounded by an average of 44.7 to 29.
"We have to go after it because we haven't shot a great percentage," Spoonhour said. "The rebounding on the other end is so big because if you get a stop, you hate to give them another look. It comes down to your shooting percentage and their shooting percentage, and rebounding controls that."
The Colonels are led by Nick Mayo, who leads the team with 17.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Freshman Dedric Boyd is second on the team with 13.2 points per game. DeAndre Dishman is averaging 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Last season Mayo scored 17 points in a loss to EIU. Muusa Dama helped hold Mayo to 5-of-16 shooting and only four rebounds.
"Dama worked really hard last year against Mayo, and it will require another good effort," Spoonhour said. "If a guy scores in the post, there's a few other factors that contributed to him scoring. Dama and (Aboubacar Diallo) will have their work cut out for them."
EIU is second-to-last in the OVC with only 66.3 points per game, and the Panthers are only shooting 41.3 percent from the field this season. EIU cut down on its turnovers with only nine against Morehead State.
"What I've been happy with, we don't turn it over and are working hard to play together offensively," Spoonhour said. "It doesn't always look great. We went out there with a plan, the guys did it and it worked. It would be nice to finish more plays around the basket and get more in transition, but we have a tough time with that. That's what takes the scoring into the 70s and 80s. We got some early in the year but haven't gotten that lately."
Senior guard Montell Goodwin has stepped up since Lewis went down. Without Jackson, Goodwin was the point guard the whole game and played 37 minutes. He finished with 20 points, five assists, six rebounds and only one turnover. Goodwin had four 3-pointers against Morehead State and has 21 3-pointers in his last five games.
"He played a great game – and it wasn't just because the shots went in," Spoonhour said. "We need the shots to go in, but for him, he handled the ball the entire game, stayed in front of their point guard and they pressed. He had a totally new job he had to do, everybody was trying to do something new. I am very proud of him. He's had some really good games, but that was maybe his best game."