By Jonathan Stark
Which wins games, defense or offense? For the Eastern women’s basketball team, it’s always changing. Following their second best offensive performance of the season the Colonels showed what is, to date, their best defensive performance of the season.
Against Samford (13-6, OVC 6-3) Saturday afternoon Eastern allowed just 45 points and 13 baskets on 48 shots.
“They run a Princeton type offense, a lot of back door cuts and we may have given up maybe two or three layups out of the whole night,” Eastern Head Coach Larry Joe Inman said. “Our defense and rebounding was the distinguishing factor.”
Not only was defense on its game but the offense was no slouch, either. Eastern’s players nailed their first three shots and never trailed, even in the opening minutes. Back-to-back 3-pointers early on gave the Colonels a 10-point 17-7 lead.
Niki Avery went on a tear hitting four straight 3-pointers and pushing the lead to 26-10. Including Avery’s four, the Colonels hit six straight 3-pointers.
“Niki was in the zone, and when Niki gets in that zone she’s hard to stop out there,” Inman said.
With the exception of six free throws, the Bulldogs did not make a shot from the field in the last 5:53 of the first half. Samford went to the locker room with the daunting task of trying to come back from being down 13 points at the half.
Eastern shot 7-11 (72.7 percent) from beyond the arch in the first half.
“We defended awesome, you can’t defend any better than the way we defended,” Inman said. “Everybody was in sync to our game plan and what we wanted to do. They did a great good executing everything that we worked on.”
Samford came out of the break strong, closing the gap to eight on two occasions. But they could not continue either run and ended up going over eight minutes without a basket. In those eight minutes, Eastern scored 15 points, locking up the game and taking a 21-point advantage by the time the Bulldogs got on the board again.
The Colonels’ largest lead was 28 with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Eastern went on to win 72-45.
“For our kids to really buy into the way we were trying to defend was a wonderful thing to be a part of for me as a coach,” Inman said.
Avery was the leading scorer with 25 points, 7-of-10 from 3-point range and two steals.
Ashley Cazee scored 15 while dishing out five assists, and Cherie White lead with five rebounds.
Thursday’s game was an offensive showcase for the Colonels against Jacksonville State (7-12, 4-6).
Eastern came out of the locker room with a hot hand, taking a 14-5 lead in the opening minutes. The run included three 3-pointers on their first four baskets.
“Our offense was really clicking. We had great scoring out of all of our players, it was very balanced scoring,” Inman said. “We played a pretty complete game.”
JSU put together a run of their own, closing the gap to 18-16 with eight minutes left in the half.
Another Colonels run put the game out of reach by half time. Outscoring JSU 11-1 in less than two minutes pushed the lead to 12. During the run, Eastern moved the ball inside, sinking four layups.
“I was pleased because, not only did we have good perimeter scoring, but we had good inside scoring,” Inman said. “To balance out, you have to have good inside and outside scoring. We had that with our post and perimeter players,”
Eastern closed out the half leading 42-31.
As if the scoring wasn’t high enough in the first half, the Colonels’ shooting improved to nearly 60 percent for the second half.
An early run of 10-1 for Eastern made it a 21-point game at 61-40. Crystal Jones led the drive with five of the ten points. Jones would finish with 19 points and six rebounds.
The Colonels largest lead was 25 points after Niki Avery sank two free throws with 8:36 left in the game. Avery would finish with 10 points, six assists and five steals.
Eastern cruised to a blowout win of 92-71, ending a two-game skid.
Six Colonels scored in double figures. Ashley Cazee led all scorers with 21 and Shavonne Jones pulled down eight boards.
Eastern’s 92 points is the second-largest points total for the Colonels this season.
Eastern (10-6, 5-4) hits the road as they take on Tennessee State (7-11, 4-5) this Thursday.
“State is a very capable team, very athletic,” Inman said. “This team’s going to be up and down (the court); we like to get up and down. That’s the way we like to play. It’ll be a shootout.”
The Tigers go in losing four straight. Eastern is 28-36 against TSU in the Inman era and has won 14 straight meetings dating back to 1999.