If you ever forget about the importance of the free throw line, games like this serve as a great reminded
A pair of pressure free throws from Sherman Blandford with six seconds in regulation forced overtime, and a dozen more free throws in the extra five minutes propelled Eastern Illinois to their third straight conference win, 78-72 over Southeast Missouri. The Redhawks only got to the free throw line three times in regulation, but went 1-5 from the stripe in overtime.
The Panthers led by as much as 13 in the first half, before a 7-0 run pulled the Redhawks within six at the half. Their momentum would carry over to the second half, as Southeast Missouri would take the lead with 11:08 to go, and extend the lead to six in the next three possessions. Eastern Illinois would respond with a 9-2 run of their own, taking a one point with just over five minutes remaining. The rest of regulation, neither team would lead by more than a single bucket.
Down two, Tyler Stone would put back a missed Nick Niemczyk three with 1:40, and get fouled doing so. He would hit the free throw putting the Redhawks up one. After missed three’s from Alex Austin and Niemczyk, the Panthers would get the ball with :33 seconds to go. Austin would miss another jumper, but Blandford pulled down the offensive rebound, and be fouled on the putback attempt. Blandford hit both his free throws. Marland Smith would get a good look on his final possession, but couldn’t get the shot to fall, forcing overtime.
Neither team would score in the first 90 seconds of overtime, until Josh Piper hit a three for the Panthers. On the ensuing possession, Smith would be fouled, but miss both free throws at the line. The second shot would be rebounded by the Redhawks’ A.J. Jones who would be immediately fouled, but he would only make one of two at the line.
Down two with 1:43 to go, Smith would hit a three to put the Redhawks up one. After a Blandford basket to put EIU back on top, Smith would miss a three. Blandford would pull down the rebound and be instantly fouled by Wilford, just one in a series of bad fouls down the stretch that weren’t needed. Eastern Illinois would hit all but one free-throw down the stretch, earning the win.
Five Panthers scored in double figures, led by a game-high 21 from Blandford. The junior forward also pulled down 16 rebounds, marking his second double-double in three games. Eastern Illinois outrebounded the Redhawks 50-34 on the night.
Southeast Missouri held EIU to 36% shooting, but sent the Panthers to the free throw line for 27 attempts. Stone also notched a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Wilford had a team high 20 points.
The win for Eastern Illinois moves the Panthers just one-half game out of second place in the West Division, and in a tie with SEMO for third. EIU not only looks poised to make the OVC Tournament in March, but could be a tough out in the first round. The Panthers struggled from the floor, which we’ve seen, but made up for it due to the huge advantage on the boards, and great shooting from the line.
Southeast’s fall continues, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. After a 2-0 start in conference play, the Redhawks have lost 6 of their last seven. One reason, the frontcourt’s disappearing act. Nino Johnson scores just one point, and Stone goes just 6-13 from the field. Neither get to the line, and the Redhawks were outrebounded once again. They’re not making tough plays, and getting pushed around night after night.
Both teams have just one game this week. Eastern Illinois travels to SIU Edwardsville (7-11, 3-5) in a battle for second in the West. Things don’t get easier for Southeast Missouri, who hosts Eastern Kentucky. (16-5, 6-2)