Eastern Illinois University, located in Charleston, Illinois, is known among Viking fans as the alma mater of former head coach, Brad Childress. Well…It’s maybe not that well known; but the school’s notable alumni do have a football bent. In addition to Childress, Sean Peyton and Mike Shanahan graduated from EIU. Plus, Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo passed through EIU on their way to NFL fame. Even the singer/actor, Burl Ives, at one time EIU’s most renowned attendee, played football for a couple of seasons before departing to win an Oscar and leaving us with memorable versions of “Riders in the Sky” and “Holly Jolly Christmas”.
The EIU Panthers are coached by another face familiar to Twin Cities women’s basketball fans, Matt Bollant. The Winona native and Winona State grad has a 4-3 record versus Minnesota as head coach of UW Green Bay and of Illinois. He got off to a quick start against the Gophers. In 2010, his UWGB team won at Williams Arena 79-75. Then, after moving on to the Illini in 2012, he swept the Gophers in his first season. (Minnesota was one of the few teams flummoxed by his “Buzz” defense). Actually, the “Buzz” was usually credited to his Assistant Mike Divilbiss. The same Divilbiss who took the first fall when the lawsuit dropped at Illinois. Bollant was ushered out two years later after posting a 61-94 record in five seasons (2012-2017).
It was Bollant’s success with UW Green Bay that brought him to the attention of Illinois. In five seasons with the Phoenix (2007-12) he was 148-19. Following the fiasco in Champaign, EIU quickly hired him to replace Debbie Black and revive the Panthers. Although his three season record at EIU is 33-56 (19-35 in conference) things are looking up. Last season, the Panthers were 19-16 (12-6 in the Ohio Valley Conference good for a 4th place finish). This season the Panthers are projected 5th behind UT Martin, Belmont, Southeast Missouri and Tennessee Tech in the 12 team OVC.
BREAKING NEWS: Matt Bollant did not coach the Panther’s opening game versus UIC as he was out of the country finalizing an adoption. EIU was coached by Associate Head Coach Kyley Simmons whom Gopher fans may remember as a decent shooting guard for Bollant’s Illini team. Simmons played two years in Champaign after transferring from Missouri.
A Quick Look at the Panthers:
Leading the Panthers are last season’s top scorers; 5’8” senior guard Karle Pace (17.5 points/game) and 5’9” sophomore guard Lariah Washington (13.2 points/game). Both were named to the OVC pre-season first team. Washington played for St Cloud Apollo and captured the OVC Freshman of the Year Award last season in addition to being named to the All-conference first team. While Washington was not a good three point shooter (11-37) she led the Panthers in shooting percentage at .517 during conference play. Pace, on the other hand, was a terrific three point shooter 45-99 (.465).
The Panthers are an experienced team returning all five starters and their top seven scorers. They are a guard dominated team frequently starting four guards. More to the point, their tallest player is 6’1” Junior Abby Wahl. Wahl was the third leading scorer with 10.7 points/game. There are only two other players listed at 6’0”. I remember Bollant saying something like “you can never have too many point guards”. He may be putting that theory to the test. The Panthers average 68.8 points/game in OVC play while giving up 64.4 points. To this mix, EIU has added Briana Misler. She’s a transfer from IUPUI and is expected to add a three point threat. She launched back to back three attempts immediately on entering the opener against UIC. She made the second.
The Eastern Illinois Opener Versus UIC:
The Panthers led 23-16 at the end of the first quarter. The Flames kept it close by attacking the bucket. Even though EIU struggled to put down bunnies they maintained a 37-35 lead at the half.
The Flames grabbed a 43-40 lead early in the third quarter before St Cloud native Lariah Washington knocked down three straight treys. (Maybe she’s not a bad three point shooter). Anyway, at the end of three it was 61-55 EIU.
The Panthers took control in the fourth to win 82-71. Washington led the scoring with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Wahl contributed 16 points and 21 rebounds while Litwiller knocked down 16 points. EIU also committed 24 fouls which helped keep it close. It was a good first win for Kyley Simmons. Matt Bollant is expected back for the matchup with Minnesota.
Minnesota/EIU Series History:
It was twenty years ago today, 12/2/2000: Eastern Michigan defeated the Gophers 73-72 in Lawrence, Kansas in their only meeting.
From the Gopher sports game recap (no mention of Lindsay Whalen in the game story):
The Golden Gopher women's basketball team was the victim of a last-second shot for the second straight game, losing a 73-72 contest to Eastern Illinois in the Kansas Tournament in Lawrence on Saturday. Eastern Illinois' Lauren Dailey knocked down the game-winning jumper with five seconds remaining.
Minnesota (3-3) drove full court as time elapsed with a Tanisha Gilbert jumper from the free throw line bouncing off the rim as the buzzer sounded. The Gophers, who were held scoreless in the final two minutes of the game, also dropped a 64-62 decision on Friday to St. Joseoph's on a last-second shot at the horn
Probable Starters (Last Season’s OVC Stats):
Bench (OVC Stats):
|5’9”||G||RSo||Briana Misler (IUPUI Transfer)|