With just 30 minutes and a river between campuses, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Saint Louis University have all the makings of a quality college basketball rivalry.
All that’s missing is the competition.
The Billikens (4-7) beat SIUE, 72-58, at Chaifetz Arena on Saturday. It was their fifth win over the Cougars in as many years, and their 11th in 12 all-time meetings.
The game marked the end of a five-year contract between the two teams, though SIUE athletic director Brad Hewitt says a new one is in the works.
“We should keep this going,” said SLU head coach Travis Ford. “It makes sense.”
If the Cougars (4-7) are to bring some balance to the rivalry, they’ll have to shoot the basketball better than they did Saturday. In fact, SIUE might have enjoyed a different outcome had it shot even marginally better than the 33.3 percent it put up against the Billikens.
Missed layups and turnovers have been recurring issues for the Cougars, who have now lost four straight. SIUE entered the game shooting 39.5 percent from the field, last in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“We continue to struggle with our turnovers early in the game, and we’re rushing shots at the rim early in the game,” SIUE second-year coach Jon Harris said. “A combination of the two — us missing the layups and us turning the ball over and giving them transition opportunities — was the difference in the game tonight.”
The Cougars shot just 9-of-35 in the first half and dug themselves into a 17-point hole after failing to capitalize on their rebounding advantage under the SLU goal.
Still, they rallied behind a 3-point basket by Devin Thornton and a two-handed dunk by junior Keenan Simmons to close the gap to just five points, 55-50, midway through the second half.
But guard Mike Crawford put an end to the comeback and set off a 9-0 Billikens run with the last of his four 3-pointers on the night. Crawford capped the rally with a baseline drive-and-dunk on a surprised Cougars defense.
SIUE never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“I’m obviously frustrated, but this is a resilient group. They always find a way to respond,” Harris said. “Eventually, though, you have to learn to throw the first punch. It can’t always be a response, especially when you’re on the road.”
The Billikens got off 10 fewer shots than the Cougars, but made four more of them, including 9-of-20 from 3-point range. SLU shot 47.2 percent from the field in the game.
Carlos Anderson led SIUE with 14 points, while senior Burak Eslik and Thorton each added 11. The Cougars are on the road at Green Bay on Monday.
For SLU, Reggie Agbeko scored a game-high 20 points to go with nine rebounds, and Davell Roby had a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards. Crawford also scored 15. The Billkens will be at home against Winthrop on Thursday.