EDWARDSVILLE — Senior Jerome Jones didn't have much to say about his career-best performance Wednesday night.
But Lennox Forrester, his coach at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, had plenty to offer.
"He plays with tremendous confidence," Forrester said after Jones scored 26 points in the Cougars' 62-50 win over Western Illinois before 1,706 fans at Vadalabene Center. "Last year, he took so many bad shots. It's hard when you're taking bad shots and you miss them, because you have no confidence as far as shooting the basketball.
"Now, he's a lot more disciplined as far as taking good shots --and being patient. Our team definitely has to be that way, too."
The 6-foot-5 Jones was 10-for-15 from the field, including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers, and his six rebounds also led the Cougars (1-1).
"Here, it's the best game I've played," said Jones, a transfer from Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. "I just didn't try to think about it; I just went out there and played. Just keep playing, no matter if you're making or missing shots. Keep playing. Keep playing your game."
Senior Mark Yelovich added 13 points for the Cougars, who committed just nine turnovers. Senior Terell Parks led the Leathernecks (1-1) with 18 points, but only three came in the second half when SIUE pulled away.
Senior Ceola Clark had 15 points for Western Illinois, which had more turnovers (18) than baskets (16). The Leathernecks attempted just 39 shots from the field.
"You've got to give (Jones) credit," Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari said. "I have to watch the tape to see how many we contested. But he shot the ball well against Missouri and he shot the ball well again tonight."
Jones had 17 points in the Cougars' season-opening 83-69 loss at Missouri on Saturday. Last season, he averaged 12.7 points, including his previous high of 25 against Tennessee Tech.
Until SIUE's offense begins to percolate in earnest, the Cougars will need everything they can get from their man of few words.
"He did a tremendous job for us Saturday against Mizzou in the first half, and I thought he was tremendous for us again tonight --especially when a guy like Mark Yelovich struggles a little bit," Forrester said, referring to Yelovich's 5-for-14 outing from the field.
"(Jones) took one bad shot and I gave him a dirty look. He kind of nodded like, 'Yes, I know. Bad shot.' But I thought he did a really, really good job getting his shots in the flow of the game. That's something he does in practice; he makes them in practice. That's where you gain your confidence to play in games."
SIUE led 31-28 at halftime after junior Tim Johnson tipped in a missed shot by Yelovich just ahead of the buzzer.
"Tim Johnson made a heck of a play," Forrester said. "We tried to isolate Mark Yelovich for a jump shot. He missed it, but Tim got on the offensive glass and, I thought, did a really good job by tipping it in to give us some momentum."
The Cougars then scored the first nine points of the second half, extending their run to 11-0. Jones opened the push with a 3-pointer before sophomore Maurice Wiltz had a dunk off a Leathernecks turnover that made it 36-28.
Two free throws by Yelovich and a basket by senior Reggie Reed completed the run, and the Cougars were never threatened again. SIUE grabbed its biggest lead (58-40) with 7:01 to play.
"If we keep playing like that, the future's bright for us," Jones said. "If we keep working hard in practice, keep working toward our goals, we'll be all right."
After falling behind 11-10, the Cougars held Western without a basket for 5:43 as they built an 18-11 lead. Yelovich had a block in the paint on the 6-8 Parks to highlight the defensive stand.
Otherwise, Parks was a force as he scored 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting to keep the Leathernecks in contention.
Jones, meanwhile, sizzled for SIUE, scoring a team-best 13 points and going 5-for-5 from the field with two 3-pointers. Sophomore Michael Messer energized the Cougars with seven points off the bench.
The first half had six lead changes.