It was a career night for Saint Louis University senior Ash Yacoubou, who got close enough to the basket to record personal bests of 22 points and 15 rebounds Wednesday at Southern Illinois University Edwarsdville’s Vadalabene Center.
But Yacoubou’s double-double was a symptom of a larger problem for SIUE, which struggled to score once the bigger and more physical Billikens shoved them into long-ball territory.
From there, the Cougars managed just 28.3 percent shooting from the field in a 70-60 loss to SLU.
SIUE was outscored in the paint, 20-18, largely becasue they didn’t get close enough to take shots.
“The things we talk about are attacking the rim, playing inside out,” said SIUE first-year coach Jon Harris. “Saint Louis was kind of sitting in the lane and they made it tough. They forced us to take shots from the perimeter and we just didn’t knock them down.”
Still, with little more than seven minutes left before an energetic crowd that approached Vadalabene Center’s 4,000 seat capacity, SIUE rallied to take a 50-47 lead.
Sophomore guard C.J. Carr then broke free with a loose ball and sank the layup, but the official called a charge to, instead, reverse possession. The Billikens rallied for the next nine points to secure the last of the game’s five lead changes.
SIUE falls to 1-1 and next plays at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. SLU has started its season with two wins for the third year in a row and will be at home against St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Carlos Anderson, a freshman from Alton, scored nine points early and a Burak Eslik 3-pointer put the Cougars ahead 18-10.
But Saint Louis rattled off a 13-1 run to take its first lead, then scored eight unanswered to open 31-21 lead just ahead of halftime. Six Billikens scored during the run, including a 3-pointer by Mike Crawford.
SIUE battled back early in the second half to regain the lead. Yemi Makanjuloa capped a 9-3 run with a stick-back basket to tie the game 45-45. But the Cougars didn’t score another field goal for more than six minutes and had only three more the rest of the game.
“When we picked up our pace defenisvely in the second half, I thought the guys did a nice job of finishing things and playing with a good pace,” said SLU coach Jim Crews.
Four players reached double figures, but only six players scored for SIUE.
“That’s good defense first and foremost, Harris said. “We’re going to try to dominate the paint. We’ve got physical guards and their guards were actually bigger and more physical than ours tonight.”
Carr and Eslik took nearly half of the Cougars’ shots, but were a combined 5-for-25 from the field. The Cougars also got just three points off the bench, all from senior center Grant Fiorlentinos.
“We have some guys who can shoot the ball,” Harris said. “It’s not a major concern.”
Eslik had 15 points for SIUE, Anderson and Makanjuola each had 13 and Jalen Henry finished with 11 to go with a team-high eight rebounds.
Milik Yarbrough joined Yacoubou with a double-double, scoring 12 with 10 rebounds. Crawford had 15 points.