Only one game on this Saturday but it was a close one. Here’s your Saturday night turnaround.
The one game on Saturday
Eastern Illinois 68, Nebraska 72. It wasn’t the prettiest game offensively, but the Panthers were locked in a tight game with Nebraska for all 40 minutes, although if the Huskers hit their free-throws that might have been a bit of a different story. Fouls really were EIU’s undoing, as the Panthers were in foul trouble all night long. (Nebraska hit just 23-29 [59%] from the line though, not taking full advantage of their 39-18 edge in free-throw attempts) Highlighting just how much fouls were an issue: three Panthers finished the game with four fouls while a fourth, Muusa Dama, fouled out in the loss.
Terrell Lewis led three Panthers in double digits including hitting all three of his three-point attempts on the night. Probably the most impressive stat: EIU tied Nebraska on the boards, not something you usually see in mid-major vs major games.
You’re always giving yourself a chance when you hold your opponents to under 40% shooting — if the Panthers defense is going to play this well consistently this year they could join the fray in the top tier of the conference. EIU has a very winnable game on the road at Western Illinois on Wednesday that could show us a little more about this Panthers team.
Morehead State at Lipscomb
4 p.m. CT (ESPN3)
There’s not a lot of things we can say went well in the Eagles opening night loss at Xavier. Morehead State shot 15% (7-46) from inside the three-point arc, 30% from outside and allowed the Musketeers to hit 76% in the first half, and 58% in the second half from the field. It just wasn’t a good night.
They’re going to need to put that behind them quickly. While the Bisons aren’t the Musketeers, they’ve got a lot going for them heading into this season coming a 20-win year a season ago. The question is: how healthy are they? Senior guard Nathan Moran and sophomore guard Kenny Cooper both missed Lipscomb’s season opener against a non-division one opponent. Earlier in the week, Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander said Cooper could return as soon as “this weekend,” but there’s no timeline for Moran’s return. Brandon Goodwin, though, is healthy and coming off a stellar season where he averaged more than 18 points per game.
This is a team that will likely be experimenting with their lineup as non-conference play continues: Only Jordan Walker hit more than one field goal out of the starters Friday night, and the bench was responsible for 22 of Morehead State’s 49 points. Lamontray Harris had an okay night on the glass despite his offensive struggles, but Alonzo Chatman played just nine minutes from his starting role. This is a very young team, as we know, so there’s going to be some searching for their identity in these early weeks.
UT Martin at Illinois
5 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
So here’s an interesting matchup: Illinois has already lost to an OVC team this year, although it was an exhibition match and the Illini were on the road in a sold out Lantz Arena. But even if you want to write off that win at #ItsOnlyExhibition, (like me) it does make one think that the Skyhawks could be competitive with the Big 10 squad.
If the Skyhawks were hoping for a less explosive offense than the one they just played in Marshall, they’re going to be in for a disappointment. Illinois put up 102 points in regulation in their season opener against Southern despite shooting just 4-21 (19%) from three-point range. Despite losing seven guys from last year’s NIT team, Illinois features a lot of talent, including Wright State transfer Mark Alstork who averaged 19 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last year and had a double-double in their opener. It doesn’t hurt that they have Brad Underwood coaching either; Underwood is a combined 109-27 (80%) in his career at SF Austin and Oklahoma State.
In my preview of UTM’s opener, I said that the Skyhawks can’t rely on Matthew Butler to be their everything — he needs help from the supporting cast. He played all 45 minutes of their season opener, so I’d argue that’s still a work in progress. No other starter played more than 20 minutes, with guys like FIU transfer Dominique Williams and Jacksonville State transfer DelFincko Bogan playing extended minutes off the bench. Williams was especially impressive with a team-high 25 points off of 10-12 shooting and will likely be slotted into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Much like I mentioned with Morehead State above, the Skyhawks will likely need a bit of experimentation to figure out a solid core. The question that is already coming to mind though, after losing a 15-point halftime lead to Marshall: how deep are the Skyhawks truly?