Freshman Jake Verhagen knocked down 3-point baskets on back-to-back possessions late in the second half Saturday to vault Eastern Illinois to a 76-70 win over Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball at Lantz Arena in Charleston.
The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Cougars (8-15, 4-5 OVC), who had won four of their last five games.
Eastern Illinois improved to 5-5 in the OVC to leapfrog the Cougars into second half place in the OVC West Division.
Verhagen's consecutive 3-pointers took the Panthers (8-15, 5-5 OVC) from down four at 63-59 to up two at 65-63. It was the Panther's first lead of the second half, and a lead they would not relinquish. Zach Dickerson hit a jumper from the lane with 1:37 left capping off a 10-0 run by the home team to make it 69-53.
"For us to win in any game in OVC play we have to play for 40 minutes," SIUE coach Lennox Forrester said. "Tonight we probably played 35."
SIUE led 35-30 at half after shooting 50 percent (13-26) from the field for the period. The Cougars extended their lead immediately to start the second half and pushed the lead to nine points when Donivine Stewart collected a steal and pushed the ball ahead for Rozell Nunn. Nunn scooped the shot up and in to give SIUE a 51-42 lead with 13:18 to play.
EIU chipped away at SIUE's lead, each time the Cougars able to push it out again. The Panthers had cut the lead to four points when Kris Davis drained a three from the left side to make it 54-37. Davis led SIUE with 17 points. He was 6 of 11 from the field, including 5 of 8 from three-point range.
EIU's Sherman Blanford cut it back to five points with a layup before Donivine Stewart pushed it back to eight (57-49) with 11 minutes to play. Stewart finished with seven points, five assists, and a career-high six steals.
Keaton Jackson was 6 of 8 from the field to finish with 16 points for the Cougars. Ray Lester scored a career-best 11 points and added seven rebounds, which led the team.
For the game, SIUE connected on 26 of 57 shots (45.6 percent). Eastern Illinois was 26-55 (47.3 percent) from the floor. The Panthers outrebounded SIUE 37-27.
Blanford led all scorers with a career-high 24 points, including 18 second half-points. He also hauled in a game-high 13 rebounds.
"They played way tougher than we did down the stretch," Forrester said. "Blanford was a beast down low. We didn't have an answer for him-he had nine offensive rebounds."
Reggie Smith (17 points) and Chris Olivier (12) were the only other Eastern Illinois players in double figures.