EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – SIUE staged a strong second-half comeback, but the University of Pacific fought off the Cougars 74-65 Tuesday in the season opener for both teams at the Vadalabene Center.
SIUE trailed by 23 points in the first half and 40-21 at half, but cut Pacific's lead to four points with less than two minutes remaining before the Tigers held on for the victory in the first meeting between the two teams.
"We'll be better because of this game," fourth-year SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "It was a good lesson for us, and we will grow because of it. I thought we competed harder in the second half, guarded better and made shots some shots. But you can't spot a team 16 points to start the game. That was disappointing."
Pacific built a 16-0 advantage before SIUE freshman Cameron Williams hit the Cougars' first basket with 14:33 to play in the first half. The Tigers led 40-17 late in the first half and by 19 at the break.
Then the Cougars rallied, thanks mainly to senior David McFarland. The 6-foot, 4-inch senior tallied 15 of his team-high 17 points in the second half. His four-point play early in the half ignited the Cougars, and he followed that with a trio of treys.
"He was very productive, especially coming off a hip injury," Harris said. "David is a senior, and he does the same thing every day for us. He produces."
McFarland said, "I saw a couple of shots go down (tonight) and that got me going. We hit some more shots in the second, defended better and played with more fight."
Daniel Kinchen's steal and basket with 1:56 to go narrowed Pacific's lead to 65-61, and the Cougars were within striking distance. Yet they could get no closer. The Tigers sank seven free throws in the closing 42.5 seconds to give third-year Head Coach Damon Stoudamire, a former NBA standout, an opening-game win. Lafayette Dorsey's 18 points led Pacific, a member of the West Coast Conference.
"We were right there with them near the end of the game," Harris said. "It's a process for us, and we took a step forward in the second half. We figured some things out, and we just need to play with more consistency."
Brandon Jackson added 12 points and seven rebounds to the SIUE effort. Kinchen finished with 13 points, including three tthree-pointers. The Cougars made 22 of 56 shots, were 8 for 31 on three-pointers and made just 13 free throws. Pacific outrebounded them 43-25, but SIUE forced 22 turnovers, 10 more than the Cougars committed.
Next up is Winthrop (Rock Hill, S.C.) in a 7 p.m. Saturday at the Vadalabene Center. The Eagles belong to the Big South Conference.
"Winthrop is a very good opponent and a really good team," Harris said. "They are a well-coached team and used to winning."