EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – The SIUE Cougars led from start to finish and delighted an Alumni Day crowd of 1,507 by toppling Jacksonville State 75-67 on Saturday afternoon at the Vadalabene Center.
The Cougars snapped a five-game losing streak by improving to 8-15 overall and 4-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Jacksonville State dropped to 17-8 and 8-4.
"It's a good win for us and great for the guys," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "We defended strongly for the third game in a row. The effort was there and we found a way to get it done."
David McFarland scored a team-high 15 points, Keenan Simmons punched in a season-best 14 points and Jalen Henry contributed 13 points and seven rebounds for SIUE, which saluted its Golden Anniversary team at halftime. Members of the Cougars' first team in 1967-68, coached by the late Harry Gallatin, were honored at halftime.
"It doesn't seem possible that it was 50 years ago," said Bev Gallatin, wife of the former coach, an NBA Hall of Famer. "It was good to see the players here and I enjoyed the ceremony very much. I know that Harry would have loved to be here and we all miss him."
Harris said Alumni Day was meaningful for the Cougars.
"We're going to meet the guys later on today," Harris said. "It's special to have the alumni guys come back and pretty cool to have all of them in the building."
The Cougars took that to heart, building a 6-0 lead, shooting head 33-16 at one point and owning a 38-30 halftime advantage. Jacksonville State closed to within 43-40 early in the second half, but SIUE wouldn't let the Gamecocks snare the lead.
Then the Cougars closed it out in style with McFarland and Simmons, among others, supplying some key points down the stretch. Simmons sank four free throws in the final 35.8 seconds to put the finishing touches on the victory.
"It was a really good win for us," Simmons said. It was really important to get the lead like we did at the start of the game. We kept working hard and we got the win."
McFarland scored 11 points in the second half and Simmons added 10 more. Henry poured in 10 of his points in the first half. Christian Ellis collected nine points, six rebounds and had five assists.
"We stepped up confidently," McFarland said of the successful finish. "We practice a lot of things like that."
Harris noted, "These (two) guys have been consistent all season and it's good to see them have success. We have 12 guys who can play and everybody stepped up today for us. We have a lot of resolve and we responded after Jacksonville State came back on us."
SIUE made 24 of 53 shots, including 7 of 21 from 3-point range. They converted 20 of 27 free throws and outrebounded Jacksonville State 34-31. The Gamecocks made 22 of 50 shots, with 4 of 12 coming from 3-point land. They sank 19 of 27 foul shots.
"I thought the difference in the game was our rebounding," Harris said. "We were going against one of the best rebounding teams in the country."
The Cougars' home swing continues Thursday when they entertain Eastern Illinois at 7 p.m. in another OVC affair. SIUE then welcomes Murray State at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10.