RICHMOND — As good as Eastern Illinois was on offense Thursday night, it was even better on defense.
The result was a 72-65 Ohio Valley Conference victory over Eastern Kentucky in McBrayer Arena.
"I was quoted yesterday as saying that Eastern Illinois' defense is the best defense we've faced since playing Kentucky," EKU Coach Jeff Neubauer said. "And I did realize that I was including Miami (Fla.) in that statement.
"Eastern Illinois' an outstanding defensive team right now. And that's why they've won eight in a row, and that's why they're 5-0 in the conference. They've got much better players than they've had at any point during my 10 years here at Eastern Kentucky and Jay (Spoonhour, EIU's coach) has got them guarding really well."
Shooting very well, too, Thursday.
The Panthers (11-6, 5-0 OVC) shot 71.4 percent (15 of 21) in the first half and 53.5 percent (23 of 43) for the game. Their eighth win in a row ties a school record in the Division I era.
Trae Anderson came off the bench to lead EIU with 14 points and seven rebounds. LeTrell Viser and Cornell Johnston scored 10 points each, with Johnston also dishing out four assists.
The Colonels (10-6, 2-1) had a four-game winning streak snapped.
Corey Walden topped EKU with 29 points, going 11 of 20 from the field, including 4 of 8 from three-point range, and 3 of 4 at the free-throw line. The 6-foot-2 senior also grabbed four rebounds, had two assists and two steals.
Ja'Mill Powell added 13 points. Eastern shot 37.7 percent (20 of 53) from the field and was outscored 33-21 from three-point range.
The Panthers shot the lights out en route to a 41-29 halftime lead. For good measure, EIU outrebounded the Colonels 15-8.
"If a team's shooting that well, then we're not really guarding that well," Walden said. "They really got us in defensive transition and they were able to get some good looks."
Eastern Illinois led by as many as 15, 40-25, late in the half.
"They played a perfect half," Neubauer said. "So we did not guard the ball very well. And when they drove and exposed our one-on-one defenders, Eastern Illinois made great decisions trying to decide whether to find a layup or find a three, and then they shot it very well. So they're for real."
Eastern Kentucky played harder and smarter in the second half, Walden said, to make things close down the stretch.
But when Colonels center Eric Stutz fouled out with 4:43 to go, a Reggie Smith free throw gave Eastern Illinois a 63-53 lead.
With a smaller lineup, the Colonels scored eight in a row to make it a 63-61 game with 2;02 left. Walden hit a three-pointer to start the rally, Timmy Knipp made the first of two free throws, with Powell tipping in the second-shot miss. Knipp then converted both halves of a one-and-one.
Viser answered the bell with a cold-blooded three-pointer with 1:35 left.
A steal-and-layup by Walden cut the EIU lead to 66-63 with 47 seconds left.
After an EIU turnover, Knipp was called for an offensive foul with 41.7 seconds to go.
The Panthers sealed their win by going 6-for-6 at the free-throw line in the final 34.1 seconds — four by Smith and two by Johnston.
In the end, though, Neubauer said Eastern Illinois' defense made the difference.
"They were just absolutely relentless, and that's why they're winning," he said. "Literally, they are winning strictly because of their defense. They were also good offensively tonight, but they're winning because of their defense."