If there were an award for close losses, Eastern Illinois would run away with it this week.
Eleven ties, eight lead changes, but in the end Jacksonville State would come out on top on the road, 61-55, behind a season-high 22 points from Tarvin Gaines.
Jacksonville State got off to another slow start, scoring just 11 points in the first 12:53 of the game. But 18 points over the next six minutes would help the Gamecocks hold a three point edge at the break. The lead would grow to as much as seven, before another drought allowed Eastern Illinois tie the game with 13:21 to play.
Over the next 10 and a half minutes, neither team would lead by more than a single basket, with the teams tied at 53 with 2:46 left to play. After a steal by Sherman Blandford leads to a missed jumper, Gaines hits a three, putting Jacksonville State up by three with 1:18 to play. On the next possession, Alex Austin would miss a jumper, and Gaines would pull down the rebound. After being fouled, Gaines would hit two free throws, pushing the lead to two possessions. Eastern Illinois had not hit a field goal since the 3:36 mark, and wouldn’t hit one down the stretch, as Jacksonville State avoids the upset on the road.
On top of Gaines 22 points, Brian Williams added 16 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds for the Gamecocks. Jacksonville State won despite being outscored in the paint, off of fastbreaks and was even edged on second chance points.
Blandford is the only Panther to get into double figures, and barely at that, scoring 10 points off of 5-9 shooting, coming off the bench for the second straight game. Josh Piper, the Panthers leading scorer, hit just a single field goal in 32 minutes.
Jacksonville State looks vulnerable, to put it bluntly. They may be 12-5, but outside of the Tennessee Tech win, the Gamecocks are scraping by in OVC play. The Gamecocks are edged on the boards again tonight, and committed 16 turnovers. The fact that they’re 4-2 is great, but I’m less sold now on this team being a contender in the East Division.
Eastern Illinois needs a win. They’re on the cusp, they just can’t seem to get over the hump. The offense continues to improve, hitting 42% from the field, but they don’t have a go-to player on that side of the ball. Alex Austin tried to be that tonight, but shot just 3-12 from the field.
The Panthers hit the road this week, traveling to face Murray State (12-4, 3-1) and Austin Peay (5-13, 1-3). The Gamecocks get their second crack at Tennessee State (11-7, 5-0) and host Eastern Kentucky. (14-3, 4-0)