EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Once the SIUE Cougars got going Sunday at the Vadalabene Center, they couldn't be stopped.
SIUE used a powerful second half to defeat Incarnate Word 80-68 and celebrate its first men's basketball win of the season. The Cougars improved to 1-3 and the Cardinals dropped to 4-5.
"Our guys did a good job responding because Incarnate Word plays a little unorthodox defensively," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "We really did some good things in the second and shared the basketball like we need to do it. I wouldn't say it was our best half of basketball this season, but it was a good one."
The Cougars, trailing 27-26 at halftime, erupted for 54 second-half points, thanks mainly to 19-for-30 shooting.
"We were also rebounding better in the second half," senior David McFarland said. "This win really should be a boost for us."
McFarland scored 12 points and was one of five Cougars to reach double figures. Point guard Tyrese Williford led the parade with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists after scoring 24 points Wednesday at Valparaiso.
"I'm just understanding better what's going on and reading the ball screens," said Williford, who punched in 15 second-half points.
Anselm Uzuegbunem added 12 points, while Brandon Jackson and reserve Jaylen McCoy contributed 10 points. McCoy registered seven consecutive SIUE points midway through the second half when the Cougars stretched their lead from 51-43 to 58-45. McFarland's 3-pointer at 16:40 put SIUE on top 36-33 and the Cougars never looked back.
"We have good depth and Jaylen McCoy really did some good things for us today," Harris said.
Harris added, "We made some adjustments the second half and all of the guys were executing things. Scoring shouldn't be an issue for us this season, but we need to continue and play better. I think we will eventually hang our hat on the defensive side of our game."
The Cougars overcame some inconsistency at the start of the game. They missed their first eight shots and trailed 8-0 before Uzuegbunem scored at 13:40. SIUE rallied to go ahead 24-20, when McFarland punched in seven successive points, but the Cardinals, members of the Southland Conference, held that one-point lead at half.
Yet the second half belonged to the Cougars. They withstood Christian Peevy's 32 points, including 20 in the second half. Incarnate World also made 23 of 25 free throws. The visitors connected on 22 of 48 shots, though they were just 1 of 7 on 3-pointers.
SIUE made 29 of 59 shots, including 8 of 21 treys. They Cougars converted 14 of 17 foul shots and outrebounded the Cardinals 32-26.
The Cougars resume action Wednesday against instate rival Western Illinois in Macomb. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Then SIUE welcomes sister school SIU Carbondale in a renewal of their rivalry at 2 p.m. Saturday. A large crowd is expected at the Vadalabene Center for the 11th series game between the Cougars and the Salukis.
"It's a big week for us," Harris said. "It's a quick turnaround and Western Illinois has improved from last year. But we're going up there to win."