Eastern Illinois (9-17) at Belmont (20-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 20, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Curb Event Center (5,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: EIU 6-7, Belmont 11-1. Away Record: EIU 3-10, Belmont 7-7. Neutral Record: EIU 0-0, Belmont 2-0. Conference Record: EIU 6-8, Belmont 11-2. Series Record: Belmont leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: The Eastern Illinois Panthers make the jaunt to Music City to take on the Belmont Bruins, in Ohio Valley Conference action at Curb Event Center on Thursday night.
Eastern Illinois sits in third place in the West Division of the OVC, but has lost its last three coming into this game. Most recently, the Panthers fell to Murray State on the road last Saturday, 72-60.
Belmont has been much more successful of late, having won three straight and eight of its last nine, including a 73-71 victory over Tennessee State at home last Thursday night. The Bruins sit atop the East Division with a game and half lead over Morehead State.
This is the first and only meeting in the regular season, and only the third meeting all-time between the programs. Belmont leads the series, 2-1, winning last season at EIU, 80-49.
In the recent loss to Murray State, Sherman Blanford led all scorers with 26 points for the Panthers, adding eight rebounds to his stat line. Chris Olivier notched 14 points in the loss. Trailing 32-27 at intermission, the Panthers connected on 40 percent from the floor, but hit only one of their six 3-point attempts and fell further behind in the period, as the Racers improved to 55 percent shooting in the second half.
Blanford, who was just named the OVC Player of the Week, leads the Panthers in both scoring and rebounding, at 14.3 points and 7.5 caroms per contest, and he has been on a tear of late, averaging 26.4 points over the last five contests. Reggie Smith is listed as the only other double-digit scorer for the program with 12.8 ppg, and he is first with 68 assists, but finished with just two points against Murray State. As a unit, the Panthers net just 67.1 ppg, second-worst in the OVC, and are giving up 73.4 ppg.
J.J. Mann scored 21 points as the Bruins held off the Tennessee State Tigers last Thursday. Reece Chamberlain contributed 19 points and six assists, Craig Bradshaw added 10 points and Evan Bradds pulled down a team-high nine boards in the win. Belmont took control in the early stages of the contest and jumped out to a 25-10 lead midway through the first half. The Tigers scored 13 unanswered points to cut the deficit to just two before they went into the intermission trailing, 37-33. Belmont managed to hang on for the decision despite being outrebounded, 22-15, over the final 20 minutes. Mann converted a pair of three throws with 18 seconds left in regulation to give the Bruins a 73-69 lead before a layup by the Tigers just before the final buzzer sounded set the final score.
Mann and Bradshaw have shined for Belmont this season, with the former being tops on the team with 18.0 ppg, while the latter checks at 15.9 ppg. Chamberlain, who leads the team with 114 assists, is third with 11.3 ppg, while Drew Windler chips in 10.1 ppg for the balanced Bruin scoring attack. Blake Jenkins tops the Bruins in rebounding at 4.9 rpg. They are scoring at a healthy 79.8 ppg clip, good for second in the OVC, but giving up 75.7 ppg at the defensive end. They are knocking down league-bests both from the field overall (.497) as well as from 3-point range (.393).
Despite the emergence of Blanford as a legitimate scoring threat, the Bruins are too deep and playing at a much higher level than the Panthers and should have no trouble continuing their winning ways and keep their lead atop the OVC.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Belmont 78, Eastern Illinois 70
02/20 10:17:43 ET