The Richmond Register

January 4, 2013

OVC HOOPS: Colonels top Eastern Illinois, 65-54, in OVC opener

By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer

RICHMOND — The Colonels (11-3, 1-0 OVC) picked up their eighth-straight home win Thursday with a hard-fought 65-54 win over Eastern Illinois (3-12, 0-2 OVC) in their OVC opener.

A stingy defense and some hot first-half shooting, 52 percent, helped the Colonels break open a tight game and take a lead they never relinquished.

EKU built a lead to as much as 20 points in the second half but Eastern Illinois refused to quit and fought back to cut the deficit to 10 with 1:07 to go in the game.

But the Colonels hit their free throws down the stretch to hang on for the win.

“We had a good stint in the first half on the defensive end. We gave up 10 points in the first five minutes of the game, then we only gave up eight points through 15 minutes,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said. “That was the difference and allowed us to be able to jump on them. We’re glad to be 1-0 in the OVC. Winning is a hard thing once you get into your conference, whether its at home or on the road, regardless of who you are playing.”

Leading 11-10 with just more than 15 minutes to go in the half, the Colonels offense began to click. Marcus Lewis, who finished with 11 points, began a 16-2 EKU run by scoring six straight points. Back-to-back three-pointers by Tarius Johnson and Mike DiNunno four minutes later ended the run and gave the Colonels a 27-12 lead.

The Colonels led 35-18 at the half and built their lead to as much as 20 points before EIU ran off seven straight points to cut the lead to 13 at 39-26.

A put-back of a missed shot by Marcus Lewis, three-pointers by DiNunno and Lewis and a basket by Corey Walden helped the EKU rebuild their lead to 16 and they withstood the late Panther run.

DiNunno finished with 13 points, three assists and three rebounds, while Tarius Johnson had one of his best games of the season with 13 points and three rebounds, including the first four points of the game, the second of which, a dunk, came off a steal that set the tone defensively.

Neubauer said he was pleased with the play of both Johnson and Lewis especially their aggressive defense.

“Both Marcus and Tarius played very well and the efficiency is what I really like. Tarius was 6-of-8 from the field and Marcus was 5-of-7, so those guys did a very good job of having value for what they were doing,” Neubauer said. “They both were taking very good shots and shooting them in. Marcus ended up with only one steal, but he had a couple of others where he was called for fouls, but his aggressiveness was what we wanted.”

Rebounding has been a problem for the Colonels all season and even though they finished tied with EIU with 26 rebounds each, Neubauer wasn’t pleased with the rebounding effort.

“The last time we outrebounded somebody was the last time we played in this building back in November, so our goal was to outrebound Eastern Illinois tonight and we didn’t do that,” Neubauer said. “So, quite honestly I don’t think we did a great job on the boards tonight. We played a team that like us, doesn’t rebound very well.”

After shooting the ball very well and getting a lot of open looks in the first half, EKU struggled at times to get open shots and were forced to take contested shots late in the shot clock in the second half.

Neubauer said most of that was caused by the Eastern Illinois defense in the second half.

“They played very aggressively, just like West Virginia, they did not allow us to make any passes. So, sometimes when people don’t allow passes it really can make it look stagnant,” Neubauer said. “They forced us to dribble a lot and forced us to backcut and that is what they are going to do with everybody in this league. They are going to make it hard to pass the ball and have any fluidity.”

Glenn Cosey, Walden and Orlando Williams had eight points each for the Colonels, while Deverin Muff and Jeff Johnson each had two points.

Williams, the Miami (Ohio) transfer, made his home debut against the Panthers after seeing his first action of the season against West Virginia on Sunday.

DiNunno said Williams was going to be a big asset for the Colonels going forward in conference play.

“Orlando just adds another dimension to our team. It’s one more guy who can shoot it, one more guy who can pass it and one more guy who can guard,” DiNunno said. “He can deny with the best of them on the ball and he can do anything we need him to do in our scheme. So, it is a big-time bonus and he is going to be one of our best players here as the rest of the season come around.”

After shooting 52 percent in the first half, the Colonels shot 38.1 percent in the second half and finished shooting 45.7 percent from the field. They were 9-of-23 from behind the three-point line for 39.1 percent.

EIU shot 45.7 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from behind the arc.

The Colonels committed nine turnovers, while forcing the Panthers into 13 turnovers.

The Colonels continue their two-game homestand at 7 p.m. Saturday against Southern Illinois Edwardsville. SIUE lost to Morehead Thursday, 68-64.