EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – The SIUE Cougars staged a furious rally in the final six minutes, but came up short to Eastern Illinois 78-74 on Thursday night at the Vadalabene Center.
SIUE trailed by 16 points with 6:22 to play and then started a strong comeback that got them within two points – twice -- of Eastern Illinois. However, the Panthers sank six free throws in the final 16 seconds to log the Ohio Valley Conference win.
The Cougars fell to 8-16 overall and 4-9, or tied seventh, in the OVC. The Panthers improved to 9-15 and 4-8. The conference rivals play again Feb. 24 in Charleston.
"We responded well after kind of backing ourselves into a corner, but it was too little, too late," SIUE Head coach Jon Harris said.
He added, "The reality here is that we have to learn from this and we have to play the game more with a chip on our shoulder. That's what we are missing doing all the time right now. We have to mature."
Daniel Kinchen, Jalen Henry and Keenan Simmons tried to complete the Cougars' comeback. Kinchen scored a team-best 21 points, including 16 in the second half. Henry pitched in 18 points and snared six rebounds. Simmons supplied a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"SIUE is tough because they have a lot of guys you have to guard," Eastern Illinois coach Jay Spoonhour said. "They have some hard matchups for us and they rattled us late in the game, but we hung in there to get the win."
Sizzling shooting carried the Panthers. Eastern Illinois made 28 of 49 shots (57.1 percent), including 7 of 16 from 3-point land. The Panthers also converted 15 of 19 free throws. Montell Goodwin's 21 points led Eastern Illinois, which had four players score in double figures. Six of the seven Panthers who scored accounted for 67 of their 78 points.
"You aren't going to beat anybody when you allow them to come into your gym and shoot 60 percent," Harris said. "We have to defend better. And we have to do a better job as a coaching staff to come out of the gate quicker."
Eastern Illinois led 32-26 at half and gradually stretched its lead to 62-46 with 6:23 remaining. Yet the Cougars fought back.
They closed to within 68-58 with 2:09 to go and sliced the Panthers' lead to 72-70 when Henry hit two free throws with 19.5 seconds remaining. SIUE also got to within 74-72 on a Christian Ellis layup with 9.3 seconds left, but Eastern Illinois wouldn't let the Cougars get the lead.'
"They did a good job of making their free throws when they had to make them," Harris said of the Panthers.
SIUE made 26 of 60 shots, including 6 of 21 from beyond the arc. The Cougars converted 16 of 18 free throws. Eastern Illinois outrebounded them 30-29, though the Cougars made only nine turnovers.
SIUE concludes its four-game home stand Saturday when the Cougars play host to Murray State (19-5 and 11-2) at 1 p.m. The Cougars have four regular-season games remaining after that, including the home finale with Austin Peay on Thursday, Feb. 22.