By Cameron Blair
One of Eastern’s preseason all-OVC selections could not find his shot.So the other one stepped up.
Sophomore Adam Leonard scored 13 points along with two rebounds and two steals as the Colonels defeated a scrappy Thomas More team 56-38 Tuesday at McBrayer Arena.
Leonard also hit three of his five 3-point attempts after only attempting four shots in Eastern’s season opener against West Virginia-Wesleyan.
“My main focus if just trying to distribute the ball,” Leonard said. “This team just gave me more open shots.”
Junior Mike Rose struggled early, missing his first two shots and picking up an offensive foul in the first three minutes of the game. Rose finished the game making two of his 11 field goal attempts. He also missed each of his four 3-pointers.
Sophomore Josh Daniel came off the bench and provided an early spark for the Colonels’ offense. Daniel scored his 10 points in the first half on 3-of-6 shooting. He also grabbed four rebounds in the game.
“I just tried to come in and give the team as big of a lift as I could,” Daniel said.
The Saints kept the game close in the first half, pulling to within four points of the Colonels at 21-17 with 8:32 left in the half. Thomas More headed to the locker room trailing 33-26 at halftime.
The Saints played solid defense in the first half and finished the half with 12 rebounds to Eastern’s 15, despite a marked height disadvantage.
Head Coach Jeff Neubauer was quick to praise the Saints’ work on the glass.
“Thomas More is very physical with their block outs,” Neubauer said. “It’s obviously something they practice and they executed it very well.”
The Colonels tightened their defense in the second half. Eastern held Thomas More to just 12 points and 15 percent shooting in the half.
The key to Eastern’s defensive dominance was stopping Thomas More’s Mark Tinkleberg. Tinkleberg scored 17 first half points for the Saints, knocking down five of his seven 3-point attempts.
The Colonels held Tinkleberg scoreless in the second half, missing his six shot attempts.
Neubauer said the Colonels made some halftime adjustments to stop Tinkleberg.
“We talked about number 22 in practice because we knew he was their best player,” Neubauer said. “We adjusted our defense a bit in the second half and were able to shut him down.”
Eastern put the game out of reach by scoring 11 of the first 13 points of the half, giving them a 46-28 lead.
The Colonels’ bench also came up big while the starters were struggling. Eastern’s bench scored 25 of the team’s 56 points.
Sophomores Robin Mestdagh and Josh Daniel scored six and seven points, respectively, in addition to Daniel’s 10.
Points were not the only thing the bench contributed.
“I was very impressed with Daniel and Mestdagh and not just because they made some shots,” Neubauer said. “That was nice, but they also shuffled as well as they ever have defensively and they had no turnovers.”
Eastern’s men’s basketball team officially began the defense of last year’s OVC championship Friday with a 78-45 victory over West Virginia Wesleyan at McBrayer Arena.
The Colonels relied on accurate shooting and a swarming defense to power them to their 10th consecutive victory in their home opener.
Junior Mike Rose led the way for the Colonels, scoring 25 points and snatching five steals. Rose scored 21 of his points in the first half and nailed three of his six attempts from behind the 3-point line. He finished the game making 10 of his 16 shots.
Rose said playing an outmatched opponent did not mean the Colonels could relax going into the game.
“We knew we couldn’t get comfortable,” Rose said. “There have been a lot of big teams getting beat and we didn’t want to be one of them.”
Eastern’s big men also came up big against the Bobcats. The senior low post duo of Darnell Dialls and Jamaal Douglas combined for 22 points and 18 rebounds on the night.
“Jamaal’s energy was very good out there,” Head Coach Jeff Neubauer said. “For him to go out there and get all those offensive rebounds for us was huge.”
Dialls attributed his and Douglas’ control of the boards more to technique than pure athletic ability.
“We focus a lot on boxing out instead of just jumping for the ball because we know a lot of teams will be able to out-jump us,” Dialls said. “We try to get physical before the ball comes off the rim.”
Douglas and Dialls weren’t just grabbing rebounds and scoring down low. The duo also combined for five assists in the game, with Douglas dishing out three and Dialls notching two.
“Half of our game is passing out of the post,” Dialls said.
The Colonels got off to a fast start against the Bobcats, beginning the game with a 12-2 run capped off by a Jamaal Douglas dunk before West Virginia Wesleyan called a timeout with 16:50 left in the first half.
After the Bobcats pulled to within nine points at 18-9 with 11:11 left to play in the first half, the Colonels put the game out of reach with a 34-13 run to end the half. The long run, which was capped off by a dunk by Dialls, gave the Colonels a 50-21 lead heading into half time.
The big lead at halftime could be attributed to the hot shooting for Eastern in the first half. The Colonels hit 20 of their 33 field goal attempts (60.6 percent) in the half and five of their 11 3-point attempts (45.5 percent).
“Every practice, we have shooting drills for at least a half an hour,” sophomore forward Josh Daniel said. “Not a lot of teams shoot as much as we do in practice.”
Daniel played a big role for the Colonels in the game, providing a big spark off the bench. He tallied 14 points in only 20 minutes of action.
“I’m a lot more comfortable coming off the bench this year than I was last year,” Daniel said.
A swarming defense allowed the Colonels to hold the Bobcats in check for the entire game, allowing just 45 points. Eastern deployed several defensive packages throughout the game, ranging from man to man to zone and the occasional half-court press. The Colonels forced the Bobcats into 19 turnovers on the night.
Neubauer was pleased with his team’s defensive effort.
“Our defense was very good both halves,” Neubauer said. “Most of our turnovers came out of the one-three-one zone. It gave them a lot of problems in the first half.”
But, Neubauer said there were still some kinks the Colonels need to work out.
“There’s a concern for us offensively,” Neubauer said. “The 11 turnovers we had in the second half are our primary concern.”
Before the game began, the banner for last season’s OVC championship was unveiled in the arena. The Colonels’ two seniors from that team, Michael Brock and Julian Mascoll, presented the banner.
The Colonels will begin a three-game road trip Saturday at East Tennessee State. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 4 p.m.