After a quick start by the Cougars, visiting Southeast Missouri closed faster for a 71-67 victory in front of 1,161 fans. SIUE, sustaining its 12th consecutive setback, dropped to 5-21 overall and 0-12 in the OVC. SEMO improved to 12-15 and 7-5. The Redhawks are tied with UT Martin for the lead in the six-team West Division.
"This game was similar to our game with SEMO at their place," SIUE Head Coach Jon Harris said, referring to a narrow 79-76 loss on Jan. 19 in Cape Girardeau, Mo. "It seems like every game with them comes down to a handful of possessions. They (SEMO) did a better job of rebounding in the second half tonight."
Early on, the Cougars possessed the advantage. They led 18-4 as Burak Eslik and Jalen Henry scored nine points apiece in the first 5:30. Henry finished with a game-best 22 points and nine rebounds. Eslik pitched in 18 points. Teammates Keenan Simmons (10 points and seven rebounds) and Christian Ellis (seven points, seven rebounds and six assists) also contributed to the cause.
"We did a good job starting the game and I thought our energy was fairly consistent throughout the game," Harris said. "Jalen did a great job. It was just unfortunate that he got into foul trouble. And Burak made a lot of three-pointers, then their defense started to pick up."
SEMO managed to battle and knot things at 32-all by the half. Curiously, it marked the first time this season that the Cougars were tied at halftime.
SIUE couldn't match its first-half start at the outset of the second half. The Cougars tallied only eight points in the first 6:30 of the second half and trailed 48-40. The Redhawks increased their lead to 65-55 with 2:57 remaining before SIUE made a final run.
The Cougars closed to within 67-63 with 30.3 seconds remaining and it appeared that they had ball possession. However following an officials' review of a play on a ball that went out of bounds, the Redhawks got possession.
Antonius Cleveland of SEMO sank two free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining and Jamaal Calvin hit two more five seconds later to clinch the victory.
All figured, SEMO made 27 of 36 free throws while SIUE sank 15 of 22 fouls shots. The Cougars connected on 24 of 59 shots (40.7 percent) overall and outrebounded the Redhawks 40-30.
"We got some good balance and did some good things overall," Harris said. "We were able to close the gap on them."
SIUE has lost four of its OVC games by six or fewer points, including two against SEMO.
"It's hard, but this is a resilient group," Harris said. "We have been practicing well and taking steps in the right direction. We have to make our own breaks."
The Cougars welcome UT Martin at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"UT Martin is a good team, they play hard and they are a very competitive group," Harris said.