EDWARDSVILLE – A record and raucous crowd saw the SIUE women's basketball team continue its winning ways Wednesday.
SIUE defeated Tennessee State 73-52 in front of 3,575 fans – the most to see a women's game at the 33-year-old Vadalabene Center – on Field Trip Day. The Cougars won their third consecutive game and improved to 8-13 overall, including 4-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Tennessee State dropped to 8-10 and 3-5.
"It worked well today, and it was a good win for us," said redshirt junior guard Lauren White of Edwardsville. "Today, we showed how we could play. It was great to have that many fans here and it's something you don't see often. It was good for the kids to see us and good for us to play in front of them."
The second annual Field Trip Day, sponsored by the Phillips 66 Refinery of Wood River, enabled more than 3,000 area elementary students to attend the game free. Last year's event drew 2,369 fans, most of them students.
"I don't know why we don't have Field Trip Day every game," quipped SIUE head coach Paula Buscher. She has a point. The Cougars are 2-0 on their special day.
Buscher added, "Our players love this game, and it's so positive for everybody. It's a great opportunity for young fans to see us play and a great atmosphere for our student-athletes."
The Cougars started quickly and never looked back. They used a 10-0 spurt in the first quarter to build a 21-10 lead. Tennessee State got to within 25-21 midway through the second quarter, but SIUE went on a 12-3 spree to close out the half and increase its advantage to 37-24. The Cougars led by as much as 28 points in the second half.
"We played with a lot of energy," said Nakiah Bell, redshirt sophomore guard from St. Louis. "We rebounded well and defended well."
Bell also shot well. She scored a team-best 17 points, thanks to 6-for-8 shooting, including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers. White contributed 11 points, six rebounds and three assists. Micah Jones pitched in 10 points and snared six rebounds. Gwen Adams collected 10.
Thanks to Jones and Adams, the SIUE bench tallied 28 points. The Cougars made 24 of 57 shots, six of them 3-pointers. They were 19 of 33 from the foul line and outrebounded the Tigers 41-31.
"Tennessee State is a tough team and they play really hard, but we played with high energy and showed a lot of teamwork," Buscher said.
White's three3-point buzzer-beater to defeat Southeast Missouri 70-69 on Jan. 18 seems to have revitalized the Cougars. It started them on their three-game winning streak. SIUE hits the road Saturday for a 1 p.m. OVC date at Eastern Illinois in Charleston.
"Lauren's shot really was big for us, and we're playing better after starting off slowly," Bell said.
She's seeking more of that energized approach for the road games at Eastern Illinois and Belmont (Feb. 1). The Cougars return home to face Jacksonville State at noon on Saturday, Feb. 4.
"You take every game in front of you, and we have to win on the road," Buscher said.