BY: LANE TAYLOR
While most of us were at home relaxing over Christmas break, the men’s basketball team was busy becoming the official team to beat in the OVC.
The Colonels are off to one of their best starts in decades and now hold a 4-0 conference record after beating rival school, Morehead State University this past Saturday at McBrayer Arena; the best conference start in 34 years.
For a majority of the first half of Saturday’s game it looked like Eastern was having trouble dealing with the newly placed high expectations and the hot shooting of Morehead State.
Things changed dramatically with five minutes left in the half. With Morehead leading 20-14, the Colonels, led by juniors Orlando Williams and Tarius Johnson, went on an 18-1 run to end the half, resulting in a 32-21 Eastern halftime lead.
Eastern’s dominance continued after the break as well, stretching their lead to a 37-21 advantage.
The Colonels let a strong defensive effort guide them through the first 15 minutes of the second half. At the five minutes mark, the game flipped the script with Morehead fighting their way back into the game, cutting the lead down to seven twice in the final minute of the game.
It was the Eastern defense that eventually carried the team to another OVC victory. The Colonels beat the rival Eagles by a final score of 59-52.
On the offensive end Eastern had a balanced attack with four players scoring in the double digits. Point guard senior, Mike DiNunno finished with a team best 13 points, four assists and three steals. Johnson and Williams each scored 11 and 10 respectively, and sophomore Eric Stutz finished with 10 points as well.
Stutz gives credit for the 18-1 run at the end of the first half to the defense.
“We picked up our defense a bunch,” he said. “We got up some more; getting passes more. Our defense credits our offense and we got real energized out there.”
Williams says he accredits the team’s commitment to the defensive end of the floor for not only their impressive first half run but for their overall success on the hardwood so far this season.
“We were in the passing lanes picking pockets,” Williams said. “I think that that’s the real key for our team, playing defense.”
Head coach Jeff Neubauer said he was impressed with the defensive end and the team’s rebounding efforts.
“I’m really proud of our defensive effort tonight” said Neubauer. “Morehead is the top rebounding team in the conference and we only got out rebounded by one. I’m really proud at how our guys rebounded.”
The win meant more than just a win for some Colonels.
“It means everything. Especially to our alums,” said DiNunno, explaining what it means to beat an instate rival like Morehead State. “We have a lot of people who really thoroughly enjoyed seeing that end score. It’s great for them to have it.”
Aside from achieving much as a unit so far this season, certain players have been awarded on an individual level. Johnson was named the OVC player for his performance over this past week. Johnson averaged 14 points, seven rebounds and two assists in the two games EKU played against Murray State and Morehead State.
The Colonels will now go on a two game road trip, playing OVC opponents, Belmont and Jacksonville State. The guys return to McBrayer Arena Jan. 24th to play host to conference foe Tennessee State.