With a score over 100, the men’s basketball team had a strong start to their season with a game against Eureka College.


The game opened with a stalemate for the first minute and a half, with both teams trying to get a shot but missing and heading back down the court. A strong defense at 18:36 from redshirt junior guard Shamar Wright and sophomore center Jonathan Kurtas led to a foul that gave Eureka two points from the line. 


About a minute later, the Cougars responded with sophomore guard Damarco Minor, who deftly dodged through the defenses to get a relatively unopposed basket. 


At 17 minutes, Eureka’s defense weakened enough for Minor to try for another basket, but was stopped. He was rewarded with two shots from the free-throw line, which brought the score to 4-2. From this point on, for the entire game, SIUE stayed in the lead firmly, with Eureka never tying the scores once.


At around 16:10, Shamar Wright and graduate student guard Jalen Hodge tried for a basket like Minor’s first one, but were stopped as well. However, Shamar gave it another attempt moments later and succeeded. 


After a few exchanges at either end of the court, Shamar sent a strong pass to redshirt sophomore guard Ray’Sean Taylor, who gave a triumphant first personal basket of the game, bringing the score to 11-4. 


Minor returned to the court with two baskets within one minute at 14:05 and then at 13:40.


With a distraction from junior guard Cobie Barnes running up to the Eureka defense, the court opened up for yet another basket from Minor. Both Barnes and Minor are new to the team as players.


Head Coach Brian Barone said there are quite a few new players on the team, but they’ve meshed well with the rest of the players.


“We’ve got a great group of guys,” Barone said. “[The team’s staff] continues to bring in high character young men that are also really good basketball players. It’s a culture that we’ve been establishing for several years and it’s very important for us to bring the right type of guys into that locker room for our style of playing.”


Barnes scored a basket despite a somewhat fumbled pass. Taylor followed this up with a three, bringing it to 29-8 at 9:57.


Eureka ran out of time for a basket at 7:48, which led to a close basket from Minor. About a minute later, redshirt sophomore forward DeeJuan Pruitt scored his first basket of the game, which was a three. He followed this by a strong pass to Kurtas who got another basket as well. 


Another strong pass down the court from Shamar Wright gave Pruitt a chance for a dunk, which he took and succeeded. This left the score at 40-13.


A strong Eureka defense against redshirt junior Lamar Wright led to a foul call that gave him two points at the foul line. However, immediately after this, he followed up with the successful basket he was stopped from scoring before. 


In the final stretch of the first half, both teams’ defenses tightened up greatly. Two times in a row within one minute, either team stole the ball, ran down the court, lost the ball and ran back. Breaking the building tension as the timer withered away, Hodge scored a three just before the buzzer, ending the half with 54-18.


Despite a clear lead and a very strong first half, the Cougars walked out for the second half greatly changed. Instead of shouting out their planned passes to each other, or trying to duck and dodge at top speeds, they were slow, deliberate and calculating. This choice paid off. By 17:45 remaining in the second half, the team had scored five more baskets, and Eureka hadn’t gotten a single one.


Barone said this calm calculatedness was related to a very important principle he instills in the team: respect.


“Anytime you get out to the court, you always have to respect what you’re doing out there, every single day. So, whether it’s 5-on-0, whether it’s practice, whether you’re just shooting on your own or whether it’s an opponent, we have to respect the court and their team, and our team as well,” Barone said. “Our team’s approach today carried over well. I’m pleased with that. Obviously, the win was nice, and by such a margin, that’s great. But I liked our approach.”


After the more reserved opening to the second half, the team loosened up, with Kurtas keeping his strong streak up with a strong block against Eureka which opened him up for an almost unopposed run down the court for a free basket. 


The team continued to loosen up, with Pruitt receiving a pass all the way from half court that gave him his second dunk of the game, with a score of 70-26. After this, the Cougars kept the energy up by getting similar points to the beginning of the half. In the next two minutes, Eureka scored one point at the line, and the Cougars scored 10 points in threes and twos.


At 11:35 and 10:30, Hodge made the exact same play against Eureka twice from nearly the exact same point on the court. He approached with the ball, but did not push the defense far. When the defender continued to back up, expecting him to go further in, he instead stepped back, and scored a two and then a three, making the score 85-32. Like Minor and Barnes, Hodge is also a newcomer to the team.


Not about to be outdone, junior forward Dorion Staples, who’s also a newcomer, stepped up with a three after a short tussle with the Eureka defense. Then, Minor came in with a basket right before a foul was called. 


Following the newcomer streak of Hodge, Staples and Minor, freshman center Arnas Sakenis scored a basket, had a foul called and scored one more basket at the line, which was the Cougar’s one hundredth point of the game.


At around 4:40, Minor faked a pass to one side, then sent the ball to Shamar Wright, who scored another three.


About 90 seconds later, Staples tried for a basket, but a strong hit from Eureka sent him to the floor. He scored one basket at the foul line. While he recuperated on the court, redshirt sophomore guard Desmond Polk scored a three. 


At two minutes remaining, when Staples was ready to show Eureka he was shaken but not down, he scored two baskets within a minute. 


As the game wrapped up, the ball was passed to Polk, who stopped dribbling, and instead held the ball at his waist at half court. The audience rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation for an exciting season opener. The score ended at 110-54.


With a well-rounded win such as this one, Barone said the best way for the team to improve from here is to focus on everything they can.


“You’ve just got to continue to move the ball. I think we got driven a little too much at times. It’s a constant thing,” Barone said. “Even if we do as well as we did, every day we’re going to go back to the court and want to improve.”




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