The men’s basketball team hosted the University of Tennessee at Martin Skyhawks on Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Vadalabene Center. The 79-62 loss dropped the Cougars to 4-18 for the season and 1-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Junior guard Burak Eslik said the Cougars played strong in the first half, but lacked the late defense to take the win.

“We played well in the first half, but didn’t get a good start in the second half. [U.T. Martin] had a good run in the first couple minutes in the second half, and we couldn’t answer. Defense was an issue for us, and they shot a pretty high offensive percentage,” Eslik said.

U.T. Martin opened the game with three three-pointers and a jumper to take a 11-0 lead and force head coach Jon Harris to call a timeout.

Junior guard Josh White put up the Cougars’ first points, but U.T. Martin quickly answered to bring its lead back to 11 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Eslik had five of the Cougars’ nine points. Senior guard Connor Wheeler started the Cougar offense with two three-pointers, followed by a floater from Eslik

The Skyhawks answered with a three-point shot and a layup of their own to extend the lead to 27-17. Two more three-pointers by senior forward Jake Newton and a baseline jump shot from freshman guard Carlos Anderson cut the Skyhawk lead to two points. Newton picked up his fifth three-pointer and Eslik his ninth point, as the teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half.

Newton led all scorers with 15 points and contributed to the 21-6 bench performance between the teams. Eslik finished the half with nine points while connecting on all three of his free throws. Anderson, sophomore forward Keenan Simmons and senior forward Mike Chandler all contributed four points. U.T. Martin’s leading scorer was senior forward Twymond Howard.

After the game, Newton said even though the Cougars do not have the record to show it, they can play with the toughest opponents in the OVC.

“Each and every one of us loves the game. We come out every day in practice and get better and enjoy playing the game. It’s a battle every day, but we can battle with the best of them,” Newton said.

Sophomore guard C.J. Carr shut down a potential run for the Skyhawks when he hit a corner three to start the second half. The Cougars scored their next basket three minutes later off another three-point shot, this time by White. U.T. Martin  had built its lead and was sitting comfortably with a 53-44 advantage over SIUE. The Cougars began to pressure the Skyhawks’ lead off baskets by Carr and senior forward Grant Fiorentinos.

U.T. Martin took control of the rest of the half, outscoring the Cougars38-24, and winning the game 79-62.

Despite U.T. Martin’s scoring runs to start both halves, Harris said he sees growth throughout the team.

“The guys made shots and made plays tonight, and we had some good numbers. The bottom line was that we didn’t get enough stops, and we didn’t bring our defense with us. We have to be consistent on both ends,” Harris said.

Newton led the way in Cougar scoring with 15 points, followed by Eslik with 13 and Simmons with 10. Eslik, Makanjuola and Simmons each secured four rebounds for SIUE. Anderson led all players with six assists, adding six points also.

SIUE will spend three of its five final regular season games on the road. The Cougars’ next contest is against Murray State University at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11 at the Vadalabene Center.

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