RICHMOND — Eastern Kentucky's 67-59 victory Thursday night over Eastern Illinois was noteworthy for several reasons.
The win was EKU's 17th consecutive at home, matching their longest such streak in McBrayer Arena. The Colonels also had 17-game streaks in 1987-88 and 1990-91.
EKU (12-6, 5-2 Ohio Valley Conference) broke a third-place tie with the Panthers in the OVC.
"I've never made it to the NCAA Tournament," said Justin Stommes, a junior guard who arrived a season after EKU's most recent NCAA trip in 2007. "The way things went in the OVC the last few years, definitely, that's my driving force, is trying to get back to the tournament."
Never miss a local story.
Stommes netted eight points and four rebounds Thursday. Papa Oppong, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, led the Colonels with 18 points and five boards. Both players had three assists and two steals each.
Josh Taylor had 12 points, and Dayvon Ellis added 11.
Eastern Illinois (10-7, 4-3) got 21 points from Tyler Laser, who shot 5-for-7 from three-point range.
The Panthers came into the game with one of the OVC's top defenses, holding opponents to 39.7 percent field-goal accuracy.
EKU shredded the Panthers' 2-3 zone, though. The Colonels made 27 of 48 shots (56.3 percent), including 11 of 26 three-pointers (42.3 percent).
"Everybody was sharing the ball, and shots were going in," said Oppong, who shot 7-for-9, including 4-for-5 from long range. "When shots are going in, it's always fun to play."
The fun got into gear when six Colonels scored in a 14-0 blitz that turned a 12-10 deficit into a 24-12 lead.
"I think it started with our defense," said Ellis, who capped the run with a fast-break bucket. "I think we got four or five stops in a row and scored almost on every single one of them, so that just led to easy baskets."
The Colonels led 37-24 at halftime.
Josh Taylor's driving dunk gave EKU a 44-26 lead, matching their biggest lead of the first half.
A six-point trip — back-to-back threes by Laser, sandwiched around an EKU foul — brought the Panthers to within 12. They came no closer than the final eight-point margin, though.
"I do think this was probably one of our best defensive games of the year," said Jeff Neubauer, coach of the Colonels. "Our 1-3-1 (zone) did create some havoc and some turnovers in the first half that led to some easy points that got us the lead.
"In the second half, we played mostly man-to-man defense. Eastern Illinois is really an attacking team. They drive it hard, they take a lot of shots inside the arc. We really guarded inside the arc really well."
The Panthers shot 22-for-53 (41.5 percent), 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) at long range.
Joshua Jones chipped in with eight points and led EKU with four assists.