The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars opened the 2016-17 men’s season with a 69-68 win over Hawaii in the team’s first game in the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center.
“It was a tremendous effort,” SIUE coach Jon Harris said. “I can’t say enough about the effort our guys had.”
The win marks the third consecutive season the Cougars have opened the year with a victory. It is the first time since 1992 that SIUE has opened the season with a true road win.
The win didn’t come easy for the Cougars. With the score tied 22-22 and 9:34 to play before halftime, Hawaii went on a 12-0 run to lead 34-22 with 6:12 to play. SIUE answered with a 12-0 run of its own to even the score at 34 with 3:12 left.
“We got down 12 in the first half and we have three starters with two fouls,” Harris said. “We had a lot of young guys in the game at that point and we responded.”
SIUE trailed 38-36 at halftime, but started the second period strong. The game was tied 44-44 with 15:57 to play when the Cougars scored 13 of the next 15 points to take its largest lead of the game at 11 points.
This time Hawaii responded. The Rainbow Warriors fought back to take a 62-61 lead with 5:52 left. It was 66-65 Hawaii when Tre Harris connected on a three-pointer with 2:25 left to put the Cougars up 68-66. Hawaii tied the game at 68 with 2:10 left. Carlos Anderson put the Cougars up for good with a free throw with 1:19 left.
Hawaii’s Noah Allen missed a three-pointer with nine seconds left. Burak Eslik sealed the win with a steal in the lane as time was running out.
“This is the game that we couldn’t win last year,” Harris said. “We didn’t find a way to win those close games last year consistently. We’ll be in a lot of these. We have to find a way to buckle down, get stops and find a way to win. Guys did it tonight and I can’t say enough about the effort.”
Harris led SIUE with 13 points. He was three for six from three-point range. Eslik scored 11 points and freshman Christian Ellis scored 10 points. He added four assists and four steals. Keenan Simmons scored seven points and pulled down a game-high and career-best 13 rebounds.
“That’s the nice thing about this team right now,” Harris added. “We’re just scratching the surface as for where we will be. We have a lot of versatility. We have four or five different guys who could lead us in scoring any given night.”
Allen led Hawaii with 21 points. Sheriff Drammeh scored 17. Ido Flaisher added 13 points. Gibson Johnson scored seven points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
“That’s a good program,” Harris said. “We found a way to gut out a win on their home floor. We were much better defensively. We found a way to get consecutive stops.”
SIUE continues play at the Rainbow Classic with a matchup against Florida Atlantic Sunday. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT.
“Winning this first game will give them the guys little confidence moving forward,” Harris said.