EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – SIUE used a powerful second half to defeat Tennessee Tech 76-68 Thursday at the Vadalabene Center and maintain its quest to qualify for next week's Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball tournament.
The Cougars put five players in double figures, benefited from a pair of second-half sprees and a strong defensive stand to improve to 10-19 overall and 6-11 in the OVC. The Golden Eagles fell to 7-23 and 3-14 in losing their ninth consecutive game.
"That's probably the best start we have had to the second half this season," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said. "That 8-0 spurt we had carried us the rest of the second half."
While the Cougars got going with the first eight points of the second half to grab a 38-30 advantage, the Golden Eagles couldn't solve the SIUE defense. Tennessee Tech made only one basket in nearly the first 5.5 minutes of the second half and dropped behind 40-32.
SIUE then went on a 12-2 spree after Tennessee Tech sliced the Cougars' lead to 40-37. By the midway point of the second half, SIUE led 57-42.
"We made some shots and our defensive mindset really picked up," Harris said. "This team can be a really good defensive one and I thought we played very good defense in the second half."
The offense also percolated. Junior Brandon Jackson led the way, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the final 20 minutes. He also had six rebounds. Jackson now has scored 60 points in his last three games. He has tallied 633 points in his SIUE career, putting him at No. 50 on the all-time scoring list.
"Brandon is a very capable guy and we are playing to him a little more now," Harris said. "He's so consistent mentally and he's playing with a lot more confidence."
Jackson added, "My teammates are trusting me and the guys are getting me the ball. I appreciate everybody doing that."
His teammates joined in on the fun. Tyresse Williford also scored 16 points and contributed six assists. Cameron Williams and David McFarland both pitched in 13 points, while Anselm Uzuegbunem proved effective with 11 points and eight rebounds. He made 4 of 6 shots and 3 of 4 free throws. McFarland, a senior, now has scored 643 points, putting him at No. 45 on the SIUE scoring chart.
The diverse attack marked the first time since Nov. 25 against Incarnate Word that the Cougars have had five players score in double figures. SIUE also got some redemption from a 78-69 overtime loss at Tennessee Tech on Jan. 10.
"We had a lot of guys contribute tonight, everybody was locked in and we had great balance on both ends," Harris said.
The Cougars made 27 of 58 shots and hit 5 of 18 from three-point land. They sank 17 of 28 free throws, were outrebounded 44-41, but accumulated 19 assists, or nine more than the Golden Eagles.
SIUE concludes its regular-season Saturday when the Cougars welcome Jacksonville State at 5 p.m. It'll be Senior Day and the Cougars will salute seniors Daniel Kinchen, Jaylen McCoy and McFarland. SIUE will be seeking some revenge after bowing to the Gamecocks 78-69 in overtime Jan. 10 in Jacksonville, Alabama.
"It's one game at a time and we want to take care of business on our home floor," Harris said. "For me (on Saturday), it's not so much about payback, but it's more about sending our three seniors out the right way at home. I'd love to see us get a win."
The eight-team OVC tournament start next Wednesday at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana and continues through Saturday, March 2. The OVC tourney champion automatically advances to the NCAA Tournament.