EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Four players scored in double figures Friday as SIUE men's basketball defeated Arkansas State 79-70 to deliver Jon Harris his first win as a head coach.
"It was a great experience to see the guys come together and grow," Harris said. "We had a lot of people saying that we didn't have experience, but we played a great game start to finish."
The win marked the first time SIUE has defeated an NCAA Division I opponent to start a season.
Jalen Henry led the Cougars with a career-high 18 points and finished one rebound shy of a double-double. He knocked down a career-best 11 free throws. Burak Eslik scored 13 points and led the team with four assists. Yemi Makanjuola and Grant Fiorentinos each added 11 points. Makanjuola also pulled in seven rebounds.
Tied 37-37 at the half, the visiting Red Wolves pulled out to a quick four-point advantage with back-to-back jumpers by Anthony Livingston. Devin Carter drained a jumper with 16:06 to play to make it 45-41 Arkansas State before the Cougars took over.
"The guys didn't get rattled at all, and they came together," Harris said. "We talk about how they have to coach each other and motivate each other on the floor, and they did a good job staying together."
Connor Wheeler hit a pair of three-pointers as part of a 12-2 SIUE run which put the Cougars up 53-47.
After seven lead changes and 10 ties in the first half, the Cougars seized control and led for the final 13:44 of the game. Fiorentinos knocked down a pair of free throws at the 3:41 mark to give SIUE its largest lead at 68-59.
Carter hit back-to-back baskets including a three-pointer with 2:33 to play to pull Arkansas State within four points (70-66), but SIUE used a quick 5-0 run to extend the lead back to 75-66 with just 50 seconds to play. Carter led all scorers with 22 points.
Henry capped his career night with a two free throws with 25 seconds left for the final margin.
"We're not going to put ourselves in a position to lean on one or two guys every night," Harris said. "We've got nine, 10, 11 guys who can help us win ball games."
Donte Thomas and Anthony Livingston also scored in double figures for the Red Wolves. Thomas scored 17 while adding eight rebounds. Livingston scored 14 points and led the team with nine rebounds.
SIUE finished with a slight edge in shooting, hitting 38.2 percent (21-55) of its shots compared to 36.1 percent (26-72) for Arkansas State. The Red Wolves outrebounded the Cougars 47-42, including 19 offensive rebounds leading to 16 second-chance points.
Both teams were strong under the basket, finishing with 26 points in the paint each.
SIUE forced 11 ASU turnovers while committing just seven and only three in the second half.
"This will be a momentum-builder going forward," Harris added. "They haven't had the experience to be able to rally around each other and get a win, and hopefully it will be a motivator going forward."
The Cougars remain home and will play host to Saint Louis Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.