Eastern Illinois (3-11) at Eastern Kentucky (10-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 3, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Alumni Coliseum (6,500) -- Richmond, Kentucky. Television: None. Home Record: EIU 1-5, EKU 7-0. Away Record: EIU 0-6, EKU 3-3. Neutral Record: EIU 2-0, EKU 0-0. Conference Record: EIU 0-1, EKU 0-0. Series Record: Eastern Kentucky leads, 20-13.
GAME NOTES: The Eastern Kentucky Colonels will attempt to stay perfect at Alumni Coliseum on Thursday night, as they open up their Ohio Valley Conference schedule against the visiting Eastern Illinois Panthers.
Eastern Illinois was able to put together three wins in four contests in mid- November, but since then it has been reeling. The Panthers are currently riding a seven-game losing streak, which includes a 67-59 loss in its OVC opener last Saturday at Tennessee State.
On the contrary, Eastern Kentucky's season has gotten off to an impressive 10-3 start, which included wins in each of its first nine contests. The Colonels have come back to the Earth of late with losses in three of their last four, but two of those defeats came in very difficult road games at nationally-ranked Illinois (66-53) and at West Virginia (74-67).
EKU has won four straight over EIU during the past two seasons, raising its lead in the all-time series to 20-13.
Eastern Illinois played far from its worst game of the season the last time out, shooting 43.2 percent from the field while committing just 10 turnovers, but it allowed Tennessee State to hit a lofty 55 percent of its field goal attempts and the Panthers never held a lead in the eight-point setback. Alex Austin was a huge boost off the bench for EIU, shooting 6-of-9 from the field for 18 points, while Taylor Jones was also effective with 14 points on 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. Given their terrible record, it's no surprise that the Panthers sport a minus-7.2 scoring margin, and their 56.3 ppg ranks last in the OVC (5.1 ppg fewer than the 11th-place team). Josh Piper is the only player to average double-digits on a nightly basis with 10.6 ppg, contributing impressive percentages from 3-point range (.441) and the free throw line (.885) in the process. Austin averages 9.5 ppg on 49 percent shooting, and Sherman Blanford chips in with 9.4 ppg and a team-best 5.4 rpg.
Eastern Kentucky appeared to be dead in the water against West Virginia when it was down by 13 at the half, but it slowly climbed its way back in the game to knot things up on a pair of occasions in the final five minutes, but the comeback attempt ultimately fell short. Despite the loss, the Colonels outshot the Mountaineers, .446 to .408, which included an 11-of-26 showing from 3- point range. Making five of those long-range buckets was Glenn Cosey, who netted a game-high 21 points. Orlando Williams and Mike DiNunno chipped in with 10 points apiece. Scoring has not been a problem for EKU this season, as it connects on nearly 47 percent of its field goal attempts in averaging 72.2 ppg. Cosey is the OVC's seventh-leading scorer with 16.5, doing so thanks in large part to 43.2 percent 3-point shooting. DiNunno (14.1 ppg, 4.5 apg) is a very strong second option, while Corey Walden adds 9.9 ppg. One of the Colonels' few weaknesses lies on the boards, as they get outrebounded by an average of 7.0 rpg.
Given EIU's struggles and EKU's strong start, unless the Colonels beat themselves with poor shooting and turnovers, they should have little problem prevailing at home in this matchup.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eastern Kentucky 75, Eastern Illinois 61
01/03 10:44:16 ET