EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – SIUE made a valiant second-half comeback bid against UT Martin Saturday at the Vadalabene Center, but the Cougars fell just short of completing it.
The Skyhawks fended off the Cougars 73-69 to complete the series sweep and move a game ahead of them in the Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball standings. UT Martin, which has won four consecutive games, improved to 10-15 and 5-9. SIUE dropped to 8-18 and 4-10.
"Our guys fought them and this team doesn't lack confidence," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "We battled back and felt like we could win the game, even when we were down by 17 points."
Injury-saddled UT Martin, dressing only seven players, led 31-25 at half and shot ahead 52-35 midway through the second half. Yet that's when the Cougars went to work and began rallying.
They cut the Skyhawks' lead to 59-51 on a Daniel Kinchen basket with 5:05 remaining and got to within 61-59 with 2:29 to play after David McFarland punched in two shots. SIUE went on a 15-2 binge over five minutes to make a game of it.
"We dug ourselves a big hole, but our (zone) press gave us a little energy in the second half and we started making more shots," Harris said. "We got ourselves back in the game."
McFarland's 15 points, including 10 in the second half, spurred the Cougars. The senior surpassed 600 point for his career and now has 614. Tyresse Williford contributed 14 points (10 in the second half) and Cameron Williams collected 13 points, five rebounds and five assists.
The Cougars chopped the Skyhawks' lead to 68-66 on McFarland's three-pointer with 24.2 seconds, but Delfincko Bogan of UT Martin converted three free throws in the final 21.2 seconds to secure the Skyhawks' victory. Bogan's 23 points, 16 in the second half, powered UT Martin.
"They (Skyhawks) are really playing well together and with the pace they play, they don't need more than seven players," Harris said.
SIUE made 24 of 56 shots, including 8 of 24 from beyond the arc. The Cougars sank 13 of 16 free throws and were outrebounded 37-29. UT Martin made 24 of 57 shots, going 10 of 25 from three-point range. The Skyhawks also hit on 15 of 18 foul shots.
UT Martin used a 13-1 spurt to close out the first half and grab post its six-point advantage. The Cougars only point in the final five minutes of the half came on Williford's free throw with 5.6 seconds to play.
SIUE led 15-6 midway through the first half and benefited from a 7-0 spree later on in the half to overturn the Skyhawks' 18-17 advantage their first lead of the game. Nevertheless, 10-for-28 shooting and nine first-half turnovers hampered the Cougars.
"They had 15 first-half points off our turnovers and bad shots," Harris said of the Skyhawks. "We executed well at the start of the second half, but some shots didn't go down for us."
The Cougars hit the road for a trip to Nashville, Tennessee. They play Thursday at Tennessee State and then Saturday at Belmont. SIUE's final two regular-season games are at home. The Cougars welcome Tennessee Tech Feb. 28 and Jacksonville State March 2. The eight-team OVC Championships run March 6-9 in Evansville, Ind.
"We have dug ourselves a little hole," Harris said of the Cougars playoff outlook for the OVC tourney. "But we are resilient. We will see if we can go to Tennessee and get two wins."