EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – For the second consecutive game SIUE men's basketball saw four players reach double figures in scoring Wednesday, but it wasn't enough. Saint Louis hung on for the 70-60 win in front of 3,931 at Vadalabene Center.
"First of all, I'd like to applaud our crowd," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "The atmosphere was incredible. Our guys fed on that. This can be an imposing environment, and that's something important.
"We as a program could not have asked for any more," Harris continued. "The community has really embraced me, the staff and our young group. It's encouraging and the guys really feed off of it."
SIUE dropped to 1-1 for the year. Saint Louis improved to 2-0 for the fourth consecutive year.
The Cougars rode the hot hand of Alton, Illinois, native Carlos Anderson to build an 18-10 lead by the 12:15 mark of the first half. The true freshman scored eight of the Cougars' points and connected on a pair of three-pointers.
The next 7:33 belonged to the Billikens. A Miles Reynolds lay-in at 3:42 capped off a 21-3 Saint Louis run to make the score 31-21. SIUE trimmed the lead to seven (32-25) at the break.
Like in the first half, the Cougars controlled the opening minutes of the second half, again outscoring the Billikens 18-10. Burak Eslik knocked down a three-pointer with 12:25 to play to give SIUE a 43-42 lead, its first advantage since the 8:23 mark in the first half.
The two teams traded leads and the Cougars were on top 50-47 when Yemi Makanjuola hit a pair of free throws with 7:18 left. SLU's Austin Gillman tied the game with a three-pointer and Mike Crawford put Saint Louis up for good ad 52-50 with two free throws with 6:04 remaining.
"I was glad to see our guys respond after the half when we didn't end like we wanted to," Harris said. "Mentally, they were resilient. We just didn't make enough plays down the stretch to close it out."
Eslik led SIUE with a career-high 15 points. He hit a pair of three-pointers and sank 7 of 9 free throw attempts. Anderson and Makanjuola each scored 13 to establish new career highs. Anderson was 2 for 4 from long range. Makanjuola was 4 for 5 from the field and 5 for 7 at the free throw line.
Jalen Henry scored 11 points and added a team-high eight rebounds.
Ash Yacoubou led the Billikens with a career night. Yacoubou scored a game-high 22 points and hauled in 15 rebounds, also a game-high. Crawford added 15 points.
SIUE managed to shoot just 28.3 percent (17-60) from the field for the night. The Cougars hit just five of 23 three-point attempts.
"We wanted to attack the rim and play inside out," Harris said. "I applaud Saint Louis for playing a great game and now allowing us to attack gaps and get the ball inside, which is our strength right now. They forced us to shoot shots on the perimeter."
Saint Louis held a decided advantage inside, outscoring SIUE 38-20 in the paint. Both teams finished with 42 rebounds, though the Cougars pulled down 12 offensive rebounds and turned them into 18 second-chance points.
SIUE will get its first road test Saturday. The Cougars travel to Fort Wayne for a 1:30 p.m. game CT at IPFW.