Men’s basketball improved three places in the Ohio Valley Conference after pulling off two impressive wins this weekend. They soared past Morehead State University 83-76 Thursday, Jan. 31, overcoming a 16-point deficit to do so, then beat out Eastern Kentucky University 88-82 in double overtime Saturday, Feb. 2.
The Cougars were disconnected in the first half, losing out on a lot of opportunities for points. Although they had a higher 2-point shot accuracy at 46.4 percent than the Morehead Eagles’ 40 percent, they gave away 10 points in free throws to the sixth-place Eagles and netted only four out of 13 3-point attempts to the Eagles’ six out of 14 attempts. With five and a half minutes left in the first half, the Eagles led by 16 points at 34-18. The teams left the court at halftime with the Cougars at an 8-point deficit, 40-32.
Chancellor Randy Pembrook, who attended the game in honor of Glen Carbon night, spoke highly of the team during halftime despite SIUE’s disadvantage.
“Keep playing hard. That’s the key. When they’re focused and they get into that zone, they can play with anybody,” Pembrook said.
The Cougars picked up the pace for a 51-point second half.
Propelled by an eight-point streak from senior guard Jaylen McCoy five minutes into the second half, the Cougars took Morehead by storm and took the lead for good with seven minutes left in the second half. They finally ended the game with the win at 83-76.
“We just came together at halftime. In the locker room, we all wanted to get the win, so we just picked each other up. In the first half, we were playing, not our best basketball, but not our worst,” junior guard Tyresse Williford said. “So we talked about it, and we just wanted to execute and come back in the second half.
Williford led the team and the game with 23 individual points while junior guard Christian Ellis had the most assists for the Cougars with four.
“The reason we got ourselves in the hole is we took some questionable shots on offense and probably four to five unforced turnovers that they capitalized on. That was the margin, that was the conversation in the half. [Morehead] understood that deficit was all us,” Head Coach Jon Harris said.
The Cougars entered Saturday night’s game ready to battle it out with Eastern Kentucky. SIUE took a strong lead by the end of the first half 37-22. However, they slowed down in the second to trail 66-69 until a 3-pointer by senior forward David McFarland tied up the game. After two rounds of overtime, the Cougars emerged victorious to a final score of 88-82.
Williford led the team in scoring once again with 27 points, while junior forward Anselm Uzuegbunem took home a career-high 13 rebounds. Ellis led with assists with six.
The weekend’s games lifted the Cougars from No. 10 to seventh place in the OVC and improved their conference record to 4-6, while Morehead State remains one place above at No. 6. Eastern Kentucky sits at No. 9.
Men’s basketball travels to Austin Peay Thursday in Clarksville, Tennessee, and will face Murray State Saturday night in Murray, Kentucky.