RICHMOND, Ky. – A furious comeback by Eastern Kentucky University’s men’s basketball team came up short as the Colonels dropped their first Ohio Valley Conference game of the season Thursday night at McBrayer Arena to Eastern Illinois University, 72-65.
A three by EKU senior guard Corey Walden with 4:26 left in the game started a four-minute comeback attempt.
Eastern Kentucky (10-6, 2-1 OVC) trailed by 10 with 4:43 to go, and had trailed by as many as 15 in the first half, but got within two at the2:02 mark and was only down three with under one minute to go in the game.
With 55 seconds to play and down three, senior guard Timmy Knipp stole the Eastern Illinois inbound pass and took the ball towards the rim, but was called for an offensive foul. EIU then hit two free throws to put the game away.
The Colonels made their run even without senior forward Eric Stutz who fouled out with just less than five minutes to go.
“It was better to play smaller against them, and we did that with one big guy on the court for a good part of the second half,” head coach Jeff Neubauer said. “It was very hard to match up with them with bigger players on the floor.”
The Panthers (11-6, 5-0 OVC) shot a scorching 71 percent from the floor in the first half, making 15 of their 21 shots. That shooting led to a 41-29 advantage in favor of Eastern Illinois going into the half.
“They played a perfect first half,” Neubauer said. “We did not guard the ball very well, and when they drove and exposed our one-on-one defenders Eastern Illinois made great decisions.”
Walden led the Colonels with 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting and added four rebounds, two steals and two assists. He started the game well, scoring seven of the Colonels’ first nine points and 15 of their first 25.
Walden picked foul number four with 8:30 to go, but Neubauer didn’t take him out the rest of the game. Walden hit several crucial three-pointers and drew a charge that was pivotal in the Colonels’ comeback attempt.
The Colonels shot 38 percent for the game, and made just seven of 25 three-point shots.
Junior guard Ja’Mill Powell added 13 points to the Colonels’ total. Powell reached the line frequently, making 8-of-9 free throw attempts.
Junior guard/forward Trae Anderon led the Panthers with 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
The Colonels end their brief two-game home stand on Saturday against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Tip-off at McBrayer Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Corey Walden began the day as the only player in the OVC ranked in the top-10 in scoring (2nd), field goal percentage (7th), assists (9th) and steals (1st). He finished with 29 points, shot 55 percent (11-of-20) from the field, had two assists and two steals.
Eastern Illinois began the day first in the OVC in scoring defense (60.2 ppg) and Eastern Kentucky was ranked second (60.9 ppg).
The Colonels had held eight straight opponents to fewer than 70 points.
Eastern Illinois had limited its first four OVC opponents to 21 percent shooting from three-point range. EKU made 28 percent (7-of-25) on Thursday.
Eastern Illinois has won eight games in a row.
Eastern Kentucky entered the game second in the nation in turnover margin (+9.6) and fourth in steals (10.6 spg). The Colonels had eight steals and committed seven fewer turnovers.
Corey Walden now needs 41 more steals to break the EKU career record of 221.
Eastern Kentucky leads the all-time series, 22-14. EKU had won six straight against Eastern Illinois and 16 of the last 19. The Colonels are 14-4 in games played in Richmond, and had won 11 straight against the Panthers at McBrayer Arena.