EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – SIUE made several runs at Eastern Illinois in the second half Thursday at the Vadalabene Center, but that wasn't quite enough for the Cougars.
They couldn't overcome Eastern Illinois' robust start and fell to the Panthers 79-65 in an Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball game.
The Panthers, sweeping the Cougars this season, improved to 14-12 overall and 7-6 in the OVC. SIUE dropped to 8-17 and 4-9 in suffering its fourth consecutive loss to EIU.
"What got us was all those three-pointers they (Panthers) made in the first half," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "We had some miscues and miscommunication and got down by 14 points."
Harris added, "They were locked and loaded. They made some uncontested shots and ones where we challenged them."
It didn't make much difference in the first 20 minutes what the Cougars tried with their defense. EIU hit 11 of 21 threes in the half in building a 40-26 lead and never looked back. The Cougars, once 21 points down in the second half, rallied from a 50-29 deficit to close with a dozen times three times. They crept to within 74-63 with 1:15 to play, but could get no closer.
"We really rallied in the second half and played with a lot of energy and passion," Harris said. "We made a few runs at them, but couldn't get it under double digits."
Brandon Jackson paced SIUE with another double-double effort. He scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Jackson tallied all of his points in the first half. Meanwhile, Jaylen McCoy (12 points) and Daniel Kinchen (11 points) registered all of their scoring in the second half. McCoy matched his season high in points.
"I thought we had pretty good balanced from those guys," Harris said. "It was nice to see Jaylen and Daniel hit some shots. Brandon had a good first half and got a lot of his points from offensive rebounds. We tried to get him going more in the second half, but they did a good job defensively on him."
The Cougars made 20 of 52 shots, including 7 of 24 from three-point range. They also converted 18 of 24 free throws and had 35 rebounds, the same as the Panthers.
EIU made 24 of 55 shots, with 12 of 27 coming from beyond the arc. The Panthers sank just one three in the second half, but they made 18 of 26 free throws and were 19 of 28 from the foul line for the game. Mack Smith (18 points), Josiah Wallace (16 points) and Ben Harvey (15 points) spurred the visitors.
"Our offense wasn't as issue," Harris said. "Scoring 65 points isn't a bad number of points. We just gave up too many shots defensively."
The Cougars resume OVC action Saturday when UT Martin comes calling in a 2 p.m. SIUE will be seeking payback after bowing to the Skyhawks 85-69 on Jan. 26 in Tennessee. The Cougars have five conference dates remaining before the OVC tournament begins March 6 in Evansville, Indiana. The top eight teams qualify for the league tourney.
"With five conference games to go, every conference game is magnified," Harris said. "We need to win at home and we let this one slip away. UT Martin will be tough because they are playing better now than they were earlier in the season."