MARTIN, Tenn. – SIUE men's basketball kept itself in the hunt for an Ohio Valley Conference tournament bid with a 70-69 road win at UT Martin Thursday night.
The Cougars improved to 5-10 in OVC play and 9-17 overall, while turning the tables on the Skyhawks who grabbed a 70-69 win of their own in Edwardsville Jan. 20.
The (guys) did a great job," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris. "I give the guys a lot of credit for staying the course. They didn't get rattled. We didn't shoot bad shots. We found a way to get a win."
Keenan Simmons paced the Cougars with a perfect night from the field. The senior scored a career-high 25 points on a 12-for-12 night shooting. He scored 21 points in the first half to help the Cougars to a halftime advantage.
"Perfect 12 for 12, eight rebounds and just a single turnover in 30 minutes," Harris exclaimed. "He did a hell of a job."
UT Martin opened a five-point lead three times in the opening minutes, before the Cougars pulled ahead. Brandon Jackson, David McFarland and Daniel Kinchen scored to complete a 6-0 run and give SIUE a 14-13 lead and never by more than two the rest of the period. UTM tied the game at 24 on a three-pointer by Matthew Butler, but the Cougars proceeded on an 8-0 run to take control.
The Cougars took a 41-34 lead into halftime.
Simmons opened the second half with bucket to give SIUE its largest lead at nine (43-34). The Skyhawks chipped away until finally pulling ahead 47-46 with a three-pointer by Delfincko Bogan with 14:20 to play. Bogan led UT Martin with 22 points.
The Skyhawks led by as many as five, but the Cougars never relented.
"We started the game really well. We controlled the game for the first 30 minute or so. They made a little run. They're at home they're supposed to make a run."
SIUE didn't regain the lead until a free throw from Jalen Henry made it 66-65 with 2:59 to play. Henry was back at the line with 16 second left and SIUE down 69-68. He knocked down both shots to push SIUE back in front.
Jailen Gill had a chance to win it for UT Martin, but is hook shot from the line missed, and Henry secured the rebound as the buzzer sounded. Henry finished with 12 points. He was 3-8 from the field and 5-8 at the free throw line, with all eight free throw attempts coming in the second half.
"Jalen didn't play well and he knows he didn't play well," Harris said. But at the end of the day when we really needed him he stepped up. That's what a senior is supposed to do. He misses three free throws in a row that were big, but the two that we had to have, he found a way to get them in. Mentally, he is in a good place."
Henry is now just 12 points shy of 1,000 points for his career. He will be the 15th player at SIUE to reach the milestone.
The Cougars won nearly every specialty stat of the game. SIUE outrebounded UTM 37-29, matching its season best for rebounding margin. The Cougars hauled in 14 offensive rebounds and outscored the Skyhawks 16-3 in second chance points.
"We got the big rebounds when we needed them," Harris said. "We outrebounded that team by eight and that is the difference in the game. If we lose that rebounding battle, we lose the game."
SIUE turned 15 UT Martin turnovers into 17 points. The Cougars scored 32 points in the pant compared to UTM's 30.
"This is what can happen if you stay consistent with your approach, your focus and your intensity," Harris said.
The Cougars continue the road trip with a Saturday game at Southeast Missouri State. Tip time is 4:15 p.m.