EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Four SIUE Cougars scored in double figures, but Belmont spoiled their Ohio Valley Conference home opener 76-61 on Thursday at the Vadalabene Center.
Thanks to a quick getaway, Belmont improved to 12-6 overall and 4-1 in the OVC. The Cougars dropped to 6-10 overall and 2-3 in the conference. The loss snapped SIUE's two-game win streak.
"That's a good team," SIUE Head coach Jon Harris said of the Bruins. "Belmont is very good at what they do and very sound. They don't beat themselves and are very underrated defensively."
Amanze Egekeze, a 6-foot-, 8-inch senior forward, poured in 29 points – three shy of his season best -- to spur the Bruins, now 6-0 in their series against the Cougars.
"He's a very good player and I was disappointed with our focus on him," Harris said.
Harris took encouragement from the play of the SIUE reserves, who accounted for 31 points, or 18 more than Belmont's substitutes. Daniel Kinchen led the Cougars with 14 points and Brandon Jackson recorded 12 points, 10 in the first half. Starters Jalen Henry (11 points), Justin Benton (10 points) and Christian Ellis (eight rebounds, seven points and three assists) also contributed to the cause.
"We've had that kind of balanced scoring this season," Harris said, "but we had 15 turnovers and that's way too many of them."
A sluggish start dogged the Cougars. Belmont shot ahead 10-2 just four minutes into the game. The Bruins led by as much as a 41-23 margin the first half and owned a 41-29 advantage at the break.
SIUE sliced Belmont's lead to 10 points on three occasions early in the second half, but the Cougars could get no closer. The Bruins led 57-39 at one point.
"Belmont can expose your weaknesses, though it's a great opportunity to show the guys how they can get better and grow," Harris said. "We did some good things on the offensive end, but we have to be mentally sharper. It's a combination of toughness and awareness."
Harris added: "During our two wins on the road, we were mentally strong, but I think we took a step back tonight, especially in the first half."
The Cougars made 22 of 53 shots, including 6 of 16 from 3-point range. Belmont sank 25 of 53 shots, making 10 of 28 from beyond the arc. The Bruins also outrebounded the Cougars 34-29.
SIUE resumes its four-game home swing Saturday when the Cougars welcome Tennessee State at 7 p.m. Then it's Southeast Missouri (7 p.m. on Jan. 18) and UT Martin (1 p.m. on Jan. 20) coming to the Vadalabene Center.