College Sports

Cougars, Billikens both looking for something to build on

News-Democrat

Neither the Saint Louis University Billikens or the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars have inspired much awe among opposing coaches in their respective conferences.

Saint Louis, 11-21 last season, is listed 12th in the 14-team Atlantic-10, according to the coaches’ preseason poll. The 12-16 Cougars, meanwhile, were picked dead last in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Both teams are young, though, and looking to carry success in their non-conference schedules into the kind of confidence that challenges for league championships. They’ll get their next tests against each other when the Billikins visit the Cougars at Vadalabene Center Wednesday at 7 p.m.

SIUE first-year coach Jon Harris already is keying on the confidence his Cougars may have gained with their season-opening victory against Arkansas State Friday night.

“We hope it will be a momentum builder for us going into Wednesday, which is going to be a dog fight,” said Harris. “The guys haven’t had that experience and to rally around each other and get a win. I think (winning the first game) helps build that confidence going forward.”

Saint Louis has garnered early momentum, too, with its opening win over Hartford on Sunday.

Wednesday’s game will mark the fourth season in a row the region’s two Division-I programs have met. SLU holds a 9-1 series advantage, but the Cougars narrowed the competitive gap in their seventh season in D-1, losing narrowly at Chaifetz Arena last season, 67-61.

The Cougars were 11-3 on the home court last year.

“It should be great game for us,” said Harris, a former basketball standout at Edwardsville High School. “It’s an Atlantic-10 opponent, a great program, and Jim Crews is a phenomenal coach —he recruited me out of high school.”

The game will be televised on Fox Sports-Midwest.

Scouting the Cougars

Harris isn’t the only newcomer to the Cougars. Eight members of his 14-man roster are first-year players. Sophomore point guard C.J. Carr is the only returning player to have appeared in all 28 games in 2014-15.

Sophomore Jalen Henry is the early scoring leader after putting up 14 of his team-high 18 points in the second half of the Cougars’ win over Arkansas State. But three others joined him in double figures, including guard Burak Eslik’s 13, Yemi Makanjuola’s 11 and Grant Fiorentinos’ 11.

Makanjuola and Fiorentinos, both 6-foot-10, split time at the post. Makanjuola, a transfer from Tennessee by way of South Carolina-Wilmington, pulled down seven rebounds and blocked two shots in the season opener.

Alton’s Carlos Anderson, a true freshman, will get the start at shooting guard.

Keenan Simmons showed a knack for shot-blocking even in limited action last season with 13 blocks in 18 appearances. He had three against Arkansas State in just seven minutes of play.

Scouting the Billikens

Saint Louis returns nine scholarship players from last year’s squad that finished 3-15 in the A-10. Four of them were starters.

Among the Billikens’ returnees is sophomore forward Milik Yarbrough, an A-10 All-Rookie team pick last year. Yarbrough was one of five freshmen in the country to lead his team in scoring (10.0 ppg) and rebounding (4.8 rpg) average.

Davell Roby and Marcus Bartley led the team in steals and assists, respectively.

The Billikens ranked 321st in the country with 59.8 points per game, but had five players in double figures against Hartford, including junior guard Mike Crawford’s 17 and sophomore guard Miles Reynolds’ 16.

Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman

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