After a 7-point victory over the Utah Valley University Wolverines on Dec. 2, SIUE fell to the Vanderbilt University Commodores in the championship game on Dec. 3. The Cougars traveled to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado for the Air Force Classic tournament. 

The Cougars had their best field-shooting performance against the Wolverines, turning in a 55.3 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from beyond the arc. 

After scoring eight points in the opening quarter, the Cougars scored 47 points over the second and third quarters to take a 55-46 lead heading into the final quarter.

Although the Wolverines made a late push, Head Coach Paula Buscher said the team did a good job picking up assists and playing smart from the 3-point line. 

“They made a push on us, and we shared the ball well I thought and got some big threes. We certainly didn’t take a lot of threes, but we made a lot of them,” Buscher said. 

The Cougar bench continued to outshine its opponents’ benches, scoring 28 points to the Wolverines’ eight points. 

Buscher said freshman guards Maddy Greeling and Cloe Churchill helped fuel SIUE’s victory.

“Maddy gave us a spark, and Cloe Churchill got in and also gave us a spark,” Buscher said. 

Redshirt junior guard Lauren White led all scorers with 17 points, nine points coming off three 3-point attempts. Junior guard Donshel Beck and redshirt junior forward Micah Jones hit the double digits, scoring 14 and 11 respectively. Jones also led the game with nine rebounds. 

The Cougars returned for the championship game against Vanderbilt, but fell in the final quarter. After each of the first three quarters, it was a one-possession score. However, the Commodores outscored the Cougars 26-17 in the fourth quarter, to take  the championship with a 73-63 win.

Vanderbilt improved to 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference, and SIUE dropped to 2-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference. 

Buscher said the team played hard despite coming up short late in the game, and she hopes to use this experience toward the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament later this season. 

“I really couldn’t ask more of our team except maybe drop some of those shots late,” Buscher said. “This game hopefully will get us prepared and let us know what we need to do differently come tournament time. I was proud of how hard our team played today.”

Beck led the Cougars with 14 points, followed by White, Greeling, redshirt sophomore guard Nakiah Bell and junior forward Gwen Adams, all with nine points.

After what looked like a Cougar comeback with just over six minutes to play in regulation, Vanderbilt went on a 9-1 run to seal the win and the championship. 

Buscher said the team lost their touch in the second half, especially at the line and from the field. 

“We had our opportunities. We just didn’t knock down some of the shots late in the second half. We did some really good things tonight. I felt like if we had more free throws or a few more field goals it might have been a different game,” Buscher said. 

The Cougars return home for a 2 p.m. game Sunday, Dec. 11, against the University of Missouri St. Louis. 

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