Home College SIUE Advances In OVC Men’s Tourney With Opening-Round Triumph

SIUE Advances In OVC Men’s Tourney With Opening-Round Triumph

#6 Cougars Plays #3 Morehead State Thursday Night

by Brian Ledford

(EVANSVILLE, IN) Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville made the most out of first-half opportunities to claim an opening-round victory at the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) men’s basketball tournament Wednesday night at the Ford Center.

Paced by junior guard Ray’Sean Taylor’s 25 points, the sixth-seeded Cougars snared a 68-57 triumph over #7 Eastern Illinois to keep their NCAA Division 1 post-season dreams alive.

SIUE (17-15) advances to the OVC tourney’s quarterfinal bracket and meets #3 Morehead State (22-8) Thursday at 9 p.m. Live coverage can be seen on ESPN+.

Propelled by a pair of 8-0 first-half rallies, the Cougars built up a 17-point lead at intermission that helped achieve the 11-point tourney duke.

“I’m really proud of our guys and our fight against a really good team,” said SIUE head coach Brian Barone after the game. “We needed to get this one, obviously, We did some really good things and some guys stepped up in key moments.”

Trailing 4-2 four minutes deep, the Cougars went on their first 8-0 run, capped by senior Shamar Wright’s turnaround jumper that resulted in a 10-4 advantage with 14 minutes left in the first half.

Despite sluggish early scoring and plethora of turnovers, Eastern Illinois managed to stay within range and shored the score to 19-15 at the 7:10 mark.

SIUE then went on their second 8-0 run over the next two minutes, punctuated senior forward Terrance Thompson’s second-chance lay-up made at 4:38 that pushed the Cougars’ lead to 27-15.

Although those sprints were impressive, the most notable stat from the opening frame was SIUE’s stubborn defense that held EIU’s leading shooter, senior guard Tiger Booker (16 PPG), scoreless in the first half.

Conversely Taylor, who notched 18 points in the first twenty minutes, connected with a three-pointer with one second remaining that resulted in SIUE’s 39-22 lead at intermission.

Despite shooting a woeful 28% in the first half (8-29 from the floor), Eastern Illinois scored six straight points to start the second frame. With Booker’s second-chance layup made at the 18:45 mark, the Panthers whittled the score to 39-29.

As the second half progressed, Eastern Illinois stayed within striking distance. The Panthers managed to tighten the score to 53-47 following Booker’s layup with 7:40 remaining.

SIUE countered with a five-point push within the next two minutes to stretch the lead back to double-digits. Taylor’s lay-up with 6:21 remaining was followed by Lamar Wright’s three-pointer made on their next possession, resulting in the Cougars’ 58-47 advantage with 5:37 left.

Wright also added a pair of buckets within the final five minutes that helped push the cause.

Down the stretch, Eastern Illinois fouled the Cougars numerous times to force free throws, but both Taylor and junior guard Demarco Minor thwarted that effort by connecting on every shot made from the charity stripe.

Despite being outscored 35-29 in the second half, SIUE went on to claim the 68-57 OVC opening-round victory. Four Cougars had double digits on the night, paced by Taylor’s 25 followed by Minor’s 16.

EIU junior guard Nakyel Shelton topped the Panthers (14-18) with 20 points while Booker added a dozen.

SIUE now faces #3 Morehead State Thursday night. The teams split their home-and-home regular season games. The Cougars topped the Eagles in January (61-48) in January while Morehead State avenged with a 79-68 duke in February.

The slate is wiped clean for the quarterfinal round and the Cougars are ready for the challenge.

“Let’s go!” said Barone. “That will be fun. They’re a really good team and they’re going to run their stuff, but that’s what tournament ball is all about.”

SIUE INDIVIDUAL SCORING (68): Taylor 25, Minor 16, S. Wright 14, L. Wright 11, Thompson 2.

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By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is a writer for Arch City Media, dating back to February 2014. Emphasis is on featuring and promoting local women's sports, but will cover anything that is not reported by traditional media outlets. Also a contributor to local concert reviews.

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