LAS VEGAS, Nev. - A quick start, and a second straight game of good shooting vaulted the SIUE men's basketball team to the second consecutive tournament championship in the Division I era. The Cougars defeated the Citadel 59-55 to win the upper division of the IBN Sports Las Vegas Classic Thursday at the Orleans Arena.
"This is what we set out to do as a team," SIUE Head Coach Lennox Forrester said. "Our main focus in coming out here was to get two wins."
SIUE improves to 4-11 with the win.
Nikola Bundalo, who led the Cougars with 16 points and 11 rebounds, sealed the Cougar victory. With three seconds to play and the SIUE lead at two (57-55), The Citadel's Daniel Eykyn drove to the basket then missed the game-tying layup. Bundalo grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Bundalo sank both free throws for the final margin.
Bundalo's double-double was the third of his season and fifth of his career.
"Give Nikola a lot of credit," Forrester said. "They couldn't stop him inside tonight."
Corey Wickware scored 13 and was named to the All-Tournament team for his efforts. The junior averaged 18 points over the two games.
The Citadel missed its first seven shots from the floor allowing the Cougars to get out to a 7-0 start.
The Cougars led by as much as nine, following a Kevin Stineman layup with 6:48 to go before intermission. SIUE led the entire first half and led 28-25 at the break.
The Bulldogs, 4-8, tightened the game considerably during the second half, even briefly taking the lead.
The Citadel's Cameron Wells stole a pass then started a fast break. Mike Groselle finished for the Bulldogs to move the Citadel in front 43-41 with 11:34 to play. The Bulldogs built their lead to four before the Cougars regained control with 8:19 to play on a Michael Messer layup that made it 47-45. SIUE never trailed again.
Wells led the Bulldogs with 16 points and eight rebounds.
For the game SIUE shot 45.1 percent (23-51) from the field. Forrester attributed the better shooting to good ball movement by the Cougars.
"Honestly I think this was the most unselfish basketball we played all year," he said.
"We don't have that opportunity (to win a championship) at the end of the year," Forrester continued. "Now we have two consecutive Division I tournament championships."
The Cougars will next play Dec. 30 at Murray State. The game, which is part of a double-header with the women's teams, will tip off at approximately 7:15 p.m.