Eastern Illinois (3-10) at Tennessee State (6-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 29, 8:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Gentry Center (10,500) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: EIU 1-5, TSU 4-0. Away Record: EIU 0-5, TSU 1-6. Neutral Record: EIU 2-0, TSU 1-1. Conference Record: EIU 0-0, TSU 0-0. Series Record: Tennessee State leads, 20-19.
GAME NOTES: The Tennessee State Tigers will begin their Ohio Valley Conference season on Saturday when the Eastern Illinois Panthers storm into the Gentry Center.
The Panthers hope to fare better in OVC play than they did during their non- conference slate as they enter with a disappointing 3-10 record. EIU suffered a 74-56 loss at Drake its last time out, which extended its current losing slide to six games in a row. Jay Spoonhour's is still seeking his first road victory as the program's head coach, as it is 0-5 in away games during his brief tenure. Spoonhour's squad is struggling to produce on the offensive end as it owns a scoring offense average of just 56.1 ppg. Defensively, the Panthers are limiting their opposition to 63.2 ppg with a .472 field goal percentage.
Travis Williams has guided the Tigers to a 6-7 mark in his first 13 games at the helm of the team's bench. TSU clipped South Carolina Upstate, 67-64, its last time out for its second win in three outings. The Tigers got off to a poor 1-5 start to the season, but they have yet to be defeated in four games at the Gentry Center. They are a much better team offensively than the visitors with an average of 66 ppg on 40 percent shooting from the field. TSU's opponents averaging a slightly higher 66.7 ppg.
The Tigers own a narrow 20-19 all-time series lead after their 55-46 triumph over the Panthers in Lantz Arena last season.
Sherman Blanford paced EIU with 18 points and seven boards in its loss to Drake on Dec. 22. Morris Woods chipped in 10 points for the Panthers, who outrebounded the Bulldogs 25-19, but committed 19 turnovers. Blanford is now the team's second leading scorer (9.7 ppg) and is also grabbing a team-best 5.5 boards per outing. Josh Piper is netting a team-best 11.2 ppg with an impressive 45.5 percent connection rate from beyond the arc.
TSU managed to defeat South Carolina Upstate despite the absence of leading scorer and rebounder Robert Covington (17.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg) as Jordan Cyphers picked up the slack with a season-best 22-point performance. Kellen Thornton added 14 points and Patrick Miller chipped in with 12 to help the Tigers climb back towards the .500 mark. Thornton is tallying 14.1 points and 6.6 boards per contest and Miller also owns a double-digit scoring average with 10.5 ppg. Covington is expected to return to action on Saturday.
Without their star forward, the Tigers managed to earn a decision that may turn out to be crucial down the road. TSU's role players gained experience and confidence with the victory and they will get many more open looks when Covington returns. EIU's recent losing slide is unlikely to end in Nashville unless it finally begins to click on the offensive end.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee State 66, Eastern Illinois 60
12/29 10:31:44 ET