Over the past few weeks, these two teams have come back from the world of the dead. Eastern Illinois made the first move, winning three straight before losing last Saturday to SIU Edwardsville. The Skyhawks have won two straight, a solid win at SIUE, before shocking almost everyone with a win over Eastern Kentucky.
Two teams that a few weeks ago didn’t look like OVC Tournament contenders are now on the other side of the coin.
There was a story out of the the Journal Gazette this week about how head coach Jay Spoonhour‘s personality made him well liked around town. Now that he’s beginning to get the Panthers turned around on the court, I’m going to guess he’s only going to get more popular in Charleston, Illinois.
Eastern Illinois has been able to control the tempo of the game better than anyone. They use the shot clock well, and don’t get forced into a lot of easy turnovers. That’s really been able to keep the Panthers in games where their offense wasn’t playing all that well.
The change over the past two weeks especially is that their offense seems to have turned a corner. Sherman Blandford has become immensely important to the Panthers offensive attack as of late, shown as much in his 21 point performance in a win over Southeast Missouri as it is in his four point one in the Panthers loss to SIU Edwardsville. Blandford, who is averaging 12 points and seven rebounds in conference play, is the heart of this team offensively. Foul trouble has caused some issues for the junior forward, but when he’s one of those players than has a big impact on the game when he’s on the court.
After writing the Skyhawks off a few weeks ago, they’ve went and gotten my attention again. Their defense is playing undoubtedly better, (although it’s only starting to affect the numbers in the graphic above) and it’s taking some pressure off of UTM’s maligned offense, which also has been improved as of late.
It seems the Skyhawks are finally playing up to their potential. Now they face a new challenge: dealing with that success. Laugh if you must, but UT Martin hasn’t won back-to-back games in nearly three full seasons. For almost everyone on that team, this is uncharted territory. It’s also the first time in two seasons that the Skyhawks haven’t been dealing with some sort of major injury. Those last two things are probably not unrelated.
Right now, with losses this season to EIU and SEMO, UTM is on the wrong side of too many tiebreakers. But with a win over EKU, if UT Martin can pull even with those teams in head-to-head, the Skyhawks will likely be on the right side of those tiebreakers, unless one can knock off either Murray State or Belmont. Tonight’s win may only be worth one in the standings, but effectively it’s worth much more than that to the Skyhawks.