Burak Eslik hit a pair of free throws with 8.3 seconds left Saturday afternoon to seal a 61-58 victory for the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars over the IUPUI Jaguars at the Vadalabene Center.
SIUE head coach Jon Harris said the Cougars benefitted from a total team effort in its first regular season win at home. The Cougars improved to 3-3 while IUPUI fell to 2-4.
“Hopefully it will give us a little confidence and a little momentum going forward,” said Harris. “I thought the guys did a great job really staying the course. We put 40 minutes together with a defensive mindset.”
SIUE held IUPUI to 38.1 percent shooting from the field, including 4 of 16 (25 percent) from three-point range. Matt O’Leary led the charge for the Jaguars with 22 points followed by 16 from Darell Combs.
“Today we didn’t make any shots really the whole game which is uncharacteristic for this team, but they found a way to stay around and rally around each other defensively,” said Harris. “We did a great job executing on that end even more so than on the offensive end.”
Ellis played a team-high 31 minutes for the Cougars and provided four assists.
“The best thing was to get the ball inside and try to finish around the rim,” said Ellis. “The big emphasis for me was to bunker down on defense and get the ball inside.”
Despite being a freshman, Harris showed supreme confidence in the 6-foot, 2-inch guard from Oakland, California.
“That’s the one thing we want to do in recruiting is bring in winners and people who expect to win,” said Harris. “For me that’s a mindset and expectation and we’re trending that direction in our locker room, and he’s a big part of that.”
With a game that featured 13 lead changes, SIUE locked down the final five minutes of the game. After a pair of free throws by IUPUI’s O’Leary with 5:41 to play, SIUE garnered the last tie of the game on a made free throw by Ellis at 4:23.
SIUE took the lead for good (54-52) on Tre Harris’ layup with 4:23 to play. After a pair of free throws by Devin Thornton, Combs hit the second of his three three-pointers to pull within one 56-55 with 2:31 to play.
SIUE then made its final five free throws down the stretch with one from Harris, two from Ellis with 37 seconds left and the two from Eslik in the waning seconds. Combs had hit his final three-pointer with 15 seconds left but missed the rim on the left for his final three-point attempt of the contest.
It was the first-ever meeting between IUPUI and SIUE since 1995. The Jaguars are now 4-16 all-time against SIUE and just 1-12 in the 13 meetings in Edwardsville.
The Cougars now take to the road for two games. SIUE visits Grand Canyon at 8 p.m. Monday and then head to Bloomington, Indiana, for a 6 p.m. contest against the Hoosiers of Indiana on Dec. 2.