UT Martin fended off the Cougars 80-73 before 1,156 fans in an Ohio Valley Conference game at the Vadalabene Center. The Skyhawks, improving to 19-10, lead the OVC West with an 8-5 record. SIUE fell to 5-22 and 0-13 in the OVC.
"The effort was there and I commend our team for their consistent effort," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "They are competing and that's a good sign."
Eslik gave it all he had in tallying the most points for a Cougar since Tre Harris scored 25 on Jan. 19 at Southeast Missouri.
"Burak has probably been playing his best the last five or six games," Harris said. "His energy is there and he is playing as well as he has since he got here. He isn't forcing the issue and he's doing some good things."
All figured, Eslik made 6 of 13 shots, including 4 of 10 from 3-point range, and sank all nine of his fouls shots. Eslik now has made 125 free throws this season and is closing in on the SIUE record of 131 he established last season.
Teammates Jalen Henry (16 points and six rebounds), Keenan Simmons (10 points and seven rebounds), Josh White (nine points and three assists) and Christian Ellis (five points and six assists) complemented Eslik's solid outing.
Eslik hit a pair of three-pointers to get the Cougars in front 6-0 during a first half that was knotted nine times. The Skyhawks, getting some stellar play from senior Javier Martinez, led 39-36 at half.
Martinez finished the game with 23 points and 15 rebounds, including 17 points and 10 rebounds the first half. Jacolby Butler added 21 points, with 13 of them coming on free throws.
"He (Martinez) is the best rim runner in the league," Harris. "He plays hard and with effort. For how they play, he's a really good player."
The Skyhawks led the entire second half, though the Cougars closed to 69-67 on two Henry free throws with 2:03 remaining. UT Martin, however, wouldn't relinquish its lead and converted seven foul shots in the final 24.5 seconds to claim its second victory over SIUE this season.
"We responded today, but just came up short," Harris said. "We didn't have enough winning plays at the end."
The Cougars next travel to Murray State for a Thursday matchup which will be featured on ESPNU. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. The Cougars then play at Austin Peay on Feb. 18 before closing their season at home against Eastern Illinois on Feb. 25.