With almost the bare minimum number of scholarship players available, the Eastern Kentucky University men's basketball team needed Scott County sophomore Michael Moreno to provide more leadership and production than ever Thursday night.
To the surprise of nobody who has followed his career over the years, Moreno stepped up with a nearly perfect offensive night — 23 points on 9-for-10 shooting, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range — in EKU's 113-73 rout of the University of Tennessee at Martin.
“In the preseason I struggled to find my touch, and it kind of carried into the season,” Moreno told veteran EKU play-by-play announcer Greg Stotelmyer after the game. “I think it was a mental thing, but also it's about reps. To shoot the ball better, you're got to shoot it more.”
EKU tied the Ohio Valley Conference record with 20 3-pointers and shot 60 percent from the field in a scorching display at McBrayer Arena, where the Colonels are undefeated this season.
Only nine players were available for the achievement, including at least a pair of walk-ons. Three-time OVC player of the week Tre King was among the missing for a variety of medical reasons, along with regulars Brandon Knapper, Tariq Balogun, Cheikh Faye and Peyton Broughton. Saturday's home game against Southeast Missouri wound up postponed due to league COVID protocol.
“It was a tough week for the team,” said Moreno, who returned to his high school position of center for the evening due to the many absentees. “You've just got to adjust.”
The Colonels (13-2, 7-1 OVC) hit on 20-of-37 three-point attempts (54.1 percent), tying the mark set by Austin Peay in 2012-13 and also matching the 2013-14 EKU squad. It is the most 3-pointers ever by the Colonels against a Division I opponent.
Eastern finished the game 42-of-70 from the field.
Freshman Wendell Green Jr. scored a game-best 25 points for the Colonels. He made 10-of-16 attempts from the field, including 4-of-6 from long range, to go along with four assists and two steals.
Junior Cooper Robb of Georgetown finished with eight points along with team highs of six assists and five rebounds. His behind-the-back pass to Moreno for an easy bucket was among the highlights.
“I've played with some pretty great passers in my time,” Moreno said. “Wendell's an amazing passer. He may end up leading the conference in assists as a freshman. And Cooper and I have that connection dating back to middle school. We've played so much together that he can find me and I can find him.”
EKU, ranked No. 14 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid Major Top-25, has won eight straight games and is now off to its best OVC start in 56 years.
Freshmen Curt Lewis and Devontae Blanton went a combined 13-for-16 from the field and scored 19 points apiece.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.