EDWARDSVILLE – SIUE pushed Murray State to the limit Saturday night, but the Cougars just finished shy of a win in an Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball game at the Vadalabene Center.
The Racers defeated the Cougars 67-59 for their fifth win in their last six games. Murray State, the West Division leaders, improved to 10-9 overall and 4-1 in the OVC. SIUE fell to 5-14 and 0-5.
"Murray State is the class of the league, so we gave a good effort from start to finish," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "They made some big shots, and we just came up short."
Burak Eslik, Tre Harris, Josh White and Brandon Jackson tried their best to try and lift the Cougars over the Racers. Eslik scored 14 points and snared six rebounds. Harris finished with a team-best 15 points and helped key a second-half rally. White tallied a career-best 13 points and seven rebounds. Jackson grabbed eight rebounds and supplied five points.
"We are doing some good things," said Eslik, a 6-foot, 4-inch senior guard from Turkey.
Eslik added, "We're not going to give up. We're going to keep working hard."
The Cougars fell behind 11-1 early on, but their zone defense then started to frustrate Murray State and SIUE got to within 30-28 by halftime. They trailed 35-34 early in the second half before the Racers went on a 14-5 spree to open a 10-point lead.
Harris responded with eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in a stretch as SIUE closed to 56-51 with 5:41 remaining. The Cougars sliced the Racers' lead to 61-57 with 1:34 remaining, but got no closer. Terrell Miller's 18 points and nine rebounds paced the Racers.
"They (Racers) are who we are chasing in the OVC, and they are a physical team and a good rebounding team," Harris said. "But we outrebounded them (38-27) and we made some progress."
SIUE's reserves accounted for 34 points, and Harris pointed to the Cougars' depth against Murray State.
"We have a lot of guys who are capable of scoring," he said. "I thought Brandon Jackson really did some good things tonight."
The Cougars hit 19 of 55 shots, though they made only 3 of 20 from 3-point land. SIUE sank 18 of 25 free throws. Murray State made 22 of 50 shots, including 6 of 18 treys. The Racers converted 17 of 21 free throws.
SIUE now hits the road for games at Southeast Missouri (Jan. 19) and UT Martin (Jan. 21) before the Cougars return home to face Tennessee State (Jan. 25).
"It's one day at a time," Harris said. "I thought we took a step forward, but we need to find a way to be more consistent. We are trying to establish a program and a foundation. It takes time."