Men’s basketball defeated University of the Incarnate Word with a final score of 80-68 at home Sunday afternoon, earning their first win of the official season and improving their record to 1-3.
Despite playing from behind during the first 15 minutes of the game, the Cougars scored 54 points in the second half — a season high — and managed to pull off a win.
The start of the game did not go in the Cougars’ favor and it appeared as though it might be a blowout game against them.
They missed their first eight shots and the Cardinals held an 8-0 lead until over six minutes into the first half when junior forward Anselm Uzuegbunem made the team’s first two-point field goal.
Head coach Jon Harris cited Incarnate Word’s “unorthodox” playing style and said the team responded well to them.
“[The Cardinals] pack everything in. They try to make you set up for shots on the perimeter, and I thought we did too much of that early,” Harris said. “I thought we did a really good job, in my mind, adjusting in the second half and playing a little bit more aggressive on both ends of the floor.”
SIUE steadily made ground on Incarnate Word and took the lead 22-20 for the first time with 4:19 left in the first half. They closed out the first half trailing by one point, 26-27.
The Cougars gained a burst of momentum during the second half of play and late in the half led by 18 points.
Junior guard Tyrese Williford led the team with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists. Williford, who began his first season with SIUE this year after transferring from Wabash Valley College, has quickly begun to shine with the Cougars.
Williford also led in points and assists in Wednesday’s game against Valparaiso.
“I’m understanding [better] what’s going on. It’s only my fourth game with the team,” Williford said. “Moving forward, I think it will be better for me, [McFarland] and the entire team, not just myself.”
Uzuegbunem and senior forward David McFarland had 12 points each for the Cougars, while junior forward Brandon Jackson and senior guard Jaylen McCoy added 10 points each during the game.
McFarland said the team improved on their rebounds in this game, which aided in the win.
“[This game] should be a boost. Coming off of two or three games and losing those, we were right there in all three, but these games should be a pretty good boost for us,” McFarland said.
SIUE connected on 29 out of 59 shots to Incarnate Word’s 22 out of 48, giving SIUE a slight edge.
Incarnate Word led in free-throw accuracy, making 23 out of 25 free throws to SIUE’s 14 out of 17.
Sunday’s win meant a drop in standing for Incarnate Word. The Cardinals are currently sixth in the Southland Conference.
SIUE currently sits at No. 11 in comparison to the rest of the OVC teams — second-to-last place and only ahead of Tennessee Tech.
However, they still have over a month until their conference matches begin in January to determine where they fall among their OVC rivals.
SIUE’s first OVC game will take place on Thursday, Jan. 3 against Southeast Missouri State University.
After Sunday’s win, SIUE took on Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, last night. Next, they return home for a highly-anticipated matchup with SIU Carbondale at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Vadalabene Center.