The Beard – Injuries – Perseverance
(St. Louis, MO) – Jay Spoonhour has experienced numerous things in coaching, but nothing like he has encountered this season. The sixth year Eastern Illinois University coach has won national awards at the junior college level, was an assistant coach in the Mountain West Conference and is the son of legendary coach Charlie Spoonhour.
But by any measurement, this has been a unique year.
Team leader, 1,000 point and 500 assist producer Terrell Lewis went down with a season-ending injury eight games into the season. Lewis was poised for a very special senior season as he was averaging just under five assists and just under ten points per contest. EIU’s record (2-6) was misleading after tight losses to Nebraska and Marquette.
Five games later during the team’s second Ohio Valley Conference game, the highest rated transfer, 6’4 guard D’Angelo Jackson (9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds & 3.1 assists per game) was injured and lost for the season.
One game later, junior transfer Michael Chavers went down. Chavers was averaging just over three points per game.
Spoonhour was down two guards and a small forward over the course of five games.
Cue the manager. Spoonhour started dressing their manager Shawn Wilson… and he got hurt. The EIU coach says the Panthers have had to reinvent themselves several times.
The compounding of injuries hasn’t hindered the Panthers from persevering and maintaining positive attitudes. Spoonhour says his team had a chance to be ‘pretty good’ and they are working to get there. After two straight wins, he’s hoping they’ve made some progress. We also asked him about the beard he had been sporting all season, and is no longer there.
With five games (prior to Saturday) left in the regular season the Panthers (9-15, 5-8) are fighting for one of the two final playoff spots in the OVC Tournament. Two key contributors could be forward Ray Crossland and center Muusa Dama.
Crossland, a senior from St. Louis’ Hazelwood Central High School is a player that Spoonhour says ‘knows how to win, and that he is some of the ‘guts’ of the team, while Dama is an energetic player that is still learning the nuances of the game.
In Thursday’s win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville, both players scored 17 points while Crossland grabbed seven rebounds and Dama came off the bench to block three shots.
Senior Montell Goodwin (14.5 points per game) and reigning OVC ‘Freshman of the Week’ Mack Smith (10.6 ppg) are now the focal points of the Panther offense. Goodwin has put together back-to-back 20-point performances and Smith is averaging 18.4 points per game over EIU’s last seven outings.
The Panthers lead both SIUE (8-16, 4-9) and UT Martin (9-17, 4-9) for those two final playoff spots and will play both of those teams during the final five games of the regular season. They also host Austin Peay and Murray State and travel to Southeast Missouri.