CHARLESTON, Ill. - Eastern Illinois hit eight free throws over the final two minutes and picked up a 73-66 victory over SIUE in Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball action at Lantz Gym.
SIUE Head Coach Lennox Forrester said he liked the Cougars' fight, but in the end SIUE didn't have enough to push past the Panthers. EIU improved to 12-14 overall and 5-9 in the OVC while SIUE dropped to 7-16 overall and 5-9 in the OVC.
"I thought our guys played hard. Give credit to Eastern Illinois. They made some plays down the stretch in order to get the victory. I'm proud of our guys though. We showed a lot of fight tonight," said Forrester.
Jerome Jones led SIUE with 20 points off an 8-for-12 performance from the field. The Cougar junior connected on a season-high four three-pointers.
"Jerome made some shots for us tonight and kept us in the game. All of our starters played well on the offensive end. Mark also made some big plays for us," Forrester said.
SIUE's starting five did all the heavy lifting for the Cougars, scoring all 66 points for the Cougars. EIU's bench scored 20 of its 73 points Wednesday.
Eastern Illinois guard Jeremy Granger played two identical halves with 12 points in each half for a game-high 24 points. He made all eight of his free throws over the final three minutes.
"Jeremy Granger is a great player," noted Forrester. "He made some tough shots and was a big reason they were able to finish down the stretch."
The Panthers finished with three other players in double figures with 14 from L.C. Doss, 12 from James Hollowell, and 10 from Alfonzo McKinnie.
The two teams were close throughout the game with seven lead changes and five ties. Neither team led by double digits, but it was EIU that held the advantage in the first half. After Yelovich pulled SIUE within one at 33-32 on a jumper with 1:41 to play, EIU picked up the final five points of the opening frame capped off by a three-pointer by Granger.
In the second half, the Cougars fought back. Forrester would call a timeout with 10:53 to play just after Jones tied the game 51-51 on a jumper from the baseline. SIUE had its biggest run of the night at 10-0 as it took a five-point lead 56-51 with 9:16 to play thanks to a tip-in by Yelovich and a three-pointer by Davis.
EIU answered back with the lead at 61-60 with 5:09 to play on a steal and resulting dunk by Doss. SIUE would tie once more, but the Panthers led the rest of the way.
"We did some good things. This is a tough loss for us but we have to bounce back from this and get ready for Northern Illinois on Saturday. I'm proud of our fight tonight. We never backed down."
The Cougars now head back to the Vadalabene Center for their final home game of the season. SIUE meets in-state rival Northern Illinois in a 1 p.m. game Saturday. It will be the final home contest for SIUE seniors Corey Wickware, Kevin Stineman, and David Boarden.
"All of our seniors have meant a lot to the program. They have laid the foundation for future success and I hope the fans will come out on Saturday against Northern Illinois and help recognize them for all of their hard work," Forrester said.