The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars scored its biggest win as an NCAA Division I program Thursday, downing Murray State 65-60 in front of 2,103 at Vadalabene Center in Edwardsville.
"All wins are big, but this one is sweet," SIUE coach Lennox Forrester said. "Murray State is the cream of the crop in our conference, and for our guys to play their hearts out and stay together against them is great."
The Cougars used a balance scoring effort to improve to 5-7 in the OVC and move into a second-place tie with Southeast Missouri. SIUE is now 9-13 overall.
"We stuck to the game plan, played as a team, and made hustle plays," Forrester added. "Our guys played extremely well to put themselves in a position to win the game."
All seven players to appear in the game scored at least seven points. Five players scored at least nine points. And three players scored in double figures. Mark Yelovich and Kris Davis each scored 11 points to pace the attack. Derian Shaffer added 10 points.
Michael Messer came within a point of his first career double-double. The sophomore finished with nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Tim Johnson scored nine points and hauled in a career-high seven rebounds. Charles Joy turned a career-high eight points. Ray Lester added seven points and five rebounds.
Murray State (18-6, 9-3 OVC), led by as many as seven points in the first half and held a 30-28 advantage at halftime.
The Racers led by as many as five points in the second half which featured four ties.
Isaiah Canaan led Murray State with 20 points. The All-OVC guard was 7 of 22 from the floor.
"We knew that Canaan was the key to their team. If you let him have a big night, they're going to be tough to beat," Messer said. "TJ did a great job defending him, and when Canaan got to the basket our big guys did a nice job of contesting his shots."
Stacy Wilson was the only other Murray State player in double figures. He also scored 20.
SIUE took its first lead of the second half on a pair of Yelovich free throws which made it 42-41 Cougars with 12:08 to play.
The Cougars never trailed again in the game and twice swelled its lead to eight points. A 3-pointer by Davis with 6:12 left made it 53-45. Two free throws by Davis with 1:55 to play made it 59-51.
Murray State refused to go quietly. The Racers got a layup from Canaan with three seconds remaining to cut the Cougar lead to 63-60. Messer was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and drained both free throws to seal the win. Messer was 5 of 6 at the free thow line. The Cougars were 15-19 at the stripe as a team, including hitting 8 of 10 free throws in the game's final two minutes.
The Cougars forced 17 Racer turnovers and scored 21 points off of turnovers during the game.
"This is probably the biggest win we've had in my time here," Yelovich said. "This is a huge win for our community and our fans. Murray State is one of the best teams in our conference every single year, and to beat them in my last season means a lot."
SIUE remains home to play host to Austin Peay Saturday night. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.