EDWARDSVILLE — Defense was the cornerstone of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's 58-54 victory over Tennessee Tech on Saturday at Vadalabene Center.
The Cougars posted their first Ohio Valley Conference win of the season by limiting the Golden Eagles to 34-percent shooting from the field (16-for-47) and forcing 21 turnovers.
"Coach (Lennox) Forrester harps on us all the time that offense will come," said Cougars sophomore Michael Messer, who scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds. "The teams that end up winning games are the teams that defend."
SIUE (5-9 overall, 1-3 OVC) had to defend because it experienced offensive issues of its own. The Cougars shot 39 percent (18-for-46) and were just 17-for-33 from the free-throw line. Messer was the exception to the poor shooting from the line as he was 7-for-8.
"Both teams battled pretty hard," Forrester said. "I thought our defense did some really good things. We put them on the line 26 times, which I'm not pleased about. But our guys paid attention to details and carried out the things we wanted them to do."
Senior Jerome Jones scored 13 points for the Cougars and senior Mark Yelovich had nine. Senior Jud Dillard had 29 points and 12 rebounds for the Golden Eagles (7-10, 1-4). He was 13-for-16 from the line.
After taking a 33-32 lead with 16:20 to play in the game, Tennessee Tech didn't convert its next basket until the 8:43 mark.
By then, the Cougars had used an 11-0 run to take a 43-33 lead. Sophomore Kris Davis' 3-pointer from the right corner was the highlight of the surge.
"They're a good team," said Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne, whose team was 3-for-20 on 3-pointers. "I feel good about how hard we played. I would have liked to hit some shots, obviously. I thought we were a little hurried."
SIUE led 26-23 at halftime and was determined not to unravel in the second half as it did in a loss to Jacksonville State on Thursday.
"Everyone is definitely excited," Messer said. "Our first three conference games were games we let slipped away. We felt we had to come out with a purpose and take care of business.
"We've had a couple of grind-out games that didn't go in our favor. Even though this was ugly down the stretch, it was good that we stayed solid and was able to pull it out at the end."
Wiltz out for year
Sophomore shooting guard Maurice Wiltz will be sidelined for the remainder of the season after suffering a second concussion.
Wiltz, a native of Houston who transferred from Colorado State, played in eight games, making six starts. He averaged 8.3 points and was 14-for-29 on 3-pointers.
The 6-foot-2 Wiltz will receive a medical redshirt and will have three remaining seasons of eligibility. He scored a season-high 16 points Jan. 5 in a 78-72 loss at Eastern Kentucky.
Tennessee Tech 66, SIUE 56
The Cougars lost for the fifth time in six games despite the 28th career double-double by senior Raven Berry, a Collinsville High graduate.
Berry had 20 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes. She has 876 career rebounds, trailing only Kim Lowe (917) on the all-time list.
"It started in the first half. We kind of dug ourselves into a hole," said the 6-1 Berry, who was hurt by foul trouble. "We tend to always do that to ourselves. We rely on the second half to pull ourselves out of the hole we dug. Tonight, it just wasn't enough."
Sophomore Tierney Austin had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Cougars, who shot 32 percent (17-for-54). SIUE (7-9, 1-3) had 18 second-chance points, but was 1-for-13 on 3-pointers.
The Cougars missed their first 12 attempts from beyond the arc, finally ending the drought when Althoff High graduate Jazmin Hill, a junior, connected in the final minute.
"When you get right down toward the wire, you need to look for the 3 a little bit more," said Cougars coach Paula Buscher, whose club trailed 36-25 at halftime. "We weren't knocking those down."
Senior Jala Harris had a game-high 26 points and seven assists for the Golden Eagles (10-7, 4-0). Senior Lashay Davis had 10 points. Tennessee Tech shot 51 percent (25-for-49).
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.