BY: LANE TAYLOR
Eastern’s men’s basketball team had split results last weekend. The first game of a two-game home stretch was a win by beating the visiting Tennessee State Tigers with a score of 76-67, and the second one losing to the Belmont Bruins 85-74.
The weekend brings the Colonel’s record to 16-5 overall and 6-2 in the OVC.
The Colonels took advantage of a hot-shooting night taking control of the game early and holding on to the lead for the remainder of the game. Eastern shot an astonishing 67 percent in the first half, a half that saw the Colonels connect on 6-10 from beyond the arc.
Impressive shooting was contagious as three different Colonels hit from long range, including multiple 3-pointers from senior point guard Mike DiNunno and sophomore guard Timmy Knipp.
It was not just the shooting providing Eastern with its 39-24-halftime lead; the Colonel defense was as intense as it was relentless. Running primarily a man-to-man defense, Eastern was able to contest shots, get in the passing lanes and force 11 turnovers on Tennessee (12-10, 6-3 OVC) in the first half.
“Our team really defended well in the first half,” head coach Jeff Neubauer said. “We forced Tennessee State to play a little differently than they wanted to play coming into the game.”
This is exactly what the Tigers did the start of the second half. The opposition opened the half running a full-court man-on-man press. However, having two battle-tested guards in DiNunno and sophomore transfer Corey Walden, the Colonels were able to break the press with relative ease.
“Most teams press to speed the other team up and force quick shots, but coach encourages that for us,” DiNunno said.
“We have so many guys that shoot high percentages, we can pull up in transition or slow it down. [It’s] pick your poison with us.”
Tennessee State cut the lead down to six midway through the second half. It was an emphatic dunk by junior guard Marcus Lewis that regained the momentum and stopped any chance of Tennessee taking the lead.
“They [Tennessee] were running a zone, and that stopped it,” said Neubauer, on the impact of Lewis’s dunk. “Any time you can throw the ball up by the rim and get an easy one, it really helps.”
The Colonels held on to the lead down the stretch with clutch free throw shooting. DiNunno and Walden finished a combined 15-15 from the line with Eastern shooting an impressive 18-22 as a team.
Eastern’s lead scorer was DiNunno with 24 points for the third consecutive game. He also contributed seven assists. Walden scored 22 points while playing the entire 40 minutes.
Sophomore guard Knipp continued his string of impressive games after scoring nine points and two blocks. Sophomore Eric Stutz had another stellar performance for the Colonels recording 10 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
The Tigers were led in scoring by point guard Patrick Miller with 20 points. Tennessee outrebounded the Colonels by six, but Eastern was just too much to handle close to the basket. They outscored the Tigers 34-20 in the paint.
The Colonels hosted Belmont (17-4, 8-0 OVC) Saturday and, despite a game best 24 points from Walden and key contributions from DiNunno and Lewis with 15 and 11 points respectively, the hot-shooting Bruins defeated the Colonels 85-74.
For his individual performances this past week, Walden was named Co-OVC Newcomer of the Week. This is the second consecutive week Walden has won this award.
Eastern will look to bounce back this Thursday on the road with a visit Tennessee-Martin for the first game of a two-game road stretch. The Colonels will return at 8 p.m.Tuesday, Feb. 2 to McBrayer Arena to host Crowley’s Ridge College.