CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois men’s basketball coach Jay Spoonhour admits that he’s tough to please in exhibition games.
So even though EIU beat Eureka 79-44 in Friday’s exhibition game at Lantz Arena, Spoonhour found plenty of things for the team to improve on going forward because he knows the competition ramps up right away from an NCAA Division III school to Big 12 opponent Texas on Tuesday.
“You are never going to come out of these things feeling pretty good. Just no way around it. It’s a lot of new guys and it’s early in the year, and they are just not going to make me happy at this point,” Spoonhour said with a chuckle.
Spoonhour worked in a slew of newcomers against Eureka. Mack Smith, Logan Koch, Lucas Jones, Aboubacar Diallo and Shaun Wilson were the only healthy returners from last season. Terrell Lewis sat out because of an ankle injury.
None of those five played more than 13 minutes. Smith played the most at 13 minutes and Jones played 11. The other three all played 8 minutes each.
Shareef Smith led the team with 23 minutes, Kashawn Charles played 22 minutes, Rade Kukobat and Josiah Wallace each played 21 minutes, and Cam Burrell played 20 minutes.
Spoonhour wanted all of them to see extended time on the court because that’s the first time they have in an EIU uniform.
“The important thing is I wanted the guys to get on the floor and get a feel for it. For the most part, they did,” Spoonhour said. “For all of those guys, you realize there are good players everywhere. If you don’t guard them, they will dot your i, and that’s what happened a couple of times.”
EIU’s defense held Eureka in check throughout the game. Eureka only shot 18.8 percent in first half and the Panthers forced 10 turnovers. Eureka shot better in the second half (37.5 percent) but EIU still forced nine turnovers.
Still, Spoonhour wants more consistency out of his defense.
“Defensively, we were so spotty. We were pretty good sometimes and they run stuff that is hard to guard, and I thought we did a good job pressuring them,” Spoonhour said. “The best thing we did was we guarded them and we tried not to foul. We showed our hands and got straight up. The length around the goal was hard for (Eureka) to score over. But we are not going to be that much longer than most folks we will plus, but we were longer than them.”
EIU’s offense came in spurts. The Panthers did get 80 shots up but they only shot 38.8 percent in the game. The best offensive stretch was early in the first half when EIU went on a 21-0 run to take control of the game.
The Panthers hit 36 percent (9-of-25) from behind the arc, but they missed too many shots in the paint.
“We didn’t finish around the goal. You can’t shoot 50 percent if you don’t make layups,” Spoonhour said. “We just missed. We went up weak. A couple were just layups and didn’t make them. If you miss very many layups at all, you aren’t going to shoot 50 percent. Jumpers just by nature at best are 50-50. They are probably are nervous and excited but at some point, you have to make (layups). They will, they will make them.”
Wallace led EIU with 23 points, Mack Smith had 11 points in only 13 minutes, Kukobat had 10 points and four steals, JaQualis Matlock had 11 rebounds (seven offensive) and Charles and Burrell each had eight rebounds.
Eureka has a 12-8 lead with about 14 minutes left in the first half when the Panthers took over the game. EIU only allowed four points for the rest of the half and Eureka didn’t score again until the 6:45 mark.
During that time, EIU went on a 21-0 run as the offense started to click. EIU outscored Eureka 34-4 in the final 14 minutes of the half for a 42-16 lead.
The Panthers didn’t shoot as well in the second half (36.6 percent) and gave up a few more points (28) to Eureka, but the game was never in doubt as EIU won its exhibition game 79-44.