Just when it appeared junior guard Ed Dyson was a couple shots from sending Eastern Illinois back home with a double-digit loss, he was unable to convert critical shots from the foul line to allow the Panthers to charge back. But in basketball, there is always a player you can count on at any moment, and for Dyson, it was senior Travis Betran who helped APSU hold off their opponent to win a crucial game.
The Govs defeated the Panthers 88-83 on Thursday, Feb. 13 from the Dunn Center, but had to work more to earn the victory than expected.
APSU (11-14, 5-6 OVC) led by 13 with 1:18 remaining, but the gap was quickly changed to just three points in under a minute as EIU drained four three-pointers. It didn’t make things any easier for the nerves of head coach Dave Loos as Dyson missed four free throws in that span. Loos sighed when asked about the final minute of the game, then described it as any fan in attendance would.
But Betran was there to have Dyson’s back. After getting face guarded on every end-bound pass, he finally got the ball in his hands in the final seconds to be fouled. The senior confidently stepped up to the line and hit four big free throws that sealed the win to avenge a heart-breaking loss at EIU on Jan. 18.
With Dyson having a double-double of 24 points and 11 rebounds, Betran said it was able to take the pressure off him a bit to find his rhythm, which didn’t take long as Betran was in a groove from behind the arch, finishing with 23 points. With the front court of Will Triggs and Chris Horton combining to score just 14 points, it would be even more important for the Govs to rely on the perimeter game.
“That’s a big spark,” Dyson said. “I know as far as three-point shooting with Betran if he hits it’s most likely going to be a good game. Even with me, I feel like my game evolves around the three now. When I make one, I just get hot so it’s a big help.”
The Govs jumped out to a hot start by, first going four-for-four on free throws, then got a breakaway dunk by Horton and three-point basket by Betran to force the Panthers to call a timeout. After another three was converted by Zavion Williams, who quietly scored 15 points, Dyson began to take over.
Not only did the junior lead the team in rebounds at four with 10 minutes into the game, but also found his stroke with a fad away jumper and three-pointer to continue his improved play with Damarius Smith out nursing an ankle injury.
But as long as Sherman Blanford was in uniform for the Panthers, they weren’t going away.
Blanford finished with eye-popping numbers, 32 points and 18 rebounds, and became a dominant force down low. Dyson was assigned to guard him early in the game, but Blanford was able to power his way in the paint against smaller defenders. “It felt like he scored every time he got it,” Loos said.
With Horton having a tough night, shooting just two of 10 from the floor, sophomore Serigne Mboup entered the game and made big plays. Averaging only seven minutes a game, Mboup scored six points, with two baskets being two-handed dunks, that ignited the APSU bench. Loos also explained how he guarded the high-post player, who was trying to pass inside to Blanford, very well. It’s the little things that can win games, and Loos was happy for Mboup.
Another role player, Preston Herring, received more minutes off the bench. In the first half, Herring had four points and a rebound, with a statement two-handed slam to bring extra energy to the team.
But it was soon halted as the Panthers finally found their groove with two minutes remaining in the first half. EIU scored seven unanswered points to turn a eight point Govs lead into a one point deficit. At the half, APSU led 40-37, with the Govs shooting 12 for 12 from the free throw line and four of four from three.
The Govs sit in eighth place of the conference standings, with the top eight teams receiving a playoff berth. Four games remain on the regular season schedule, so at this point, they control their own destiny.