EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Coming into Thursday night, conference play hasn’t been too kind to the SIU-Edwardsville Cougars.
The Cougars came into their game with the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks riding an 11-game losing streak overall. They had lost 17 of their last 18 games, with their only win during that span coming against the Missouri S&T Miners back on December 28th.
In their previous meeting this season, the Redhawks edged the Cougars by three, 79-76.
This time around, the Cougars were hoping for a different result, while the Redhawks were looking to move into a tie for first place in the West Division of the Ohio Valley Conference.
At 6-5 in conference play, Southeast Missouri State came into Thursday night just a half-game behind the division-leading UT-Martin Skyhawks. Thanks to big performances from two of their stars, the Redhawks were able to keep pace atop the division.
Behind 19 points from Antonius Cleveland and 18 points from freshman Denzel Mahoney, the Redhawks pulled away from the Cougars midway through the second half and scored the 71-67 victory over SIU-Edwardsville.
In the beginning, things didn’t look good for the Redhawks, as the Cougars came out of the gates with a high level of intensity. A three-point play from Carlos Anderson gave the Cougars a 21-11 lead with 11:51 to play in the first half.
The Redhawks fought their way back as the first half ticked away, and managed to tie the game up at 32-all before the break, thanks to a dunk from Cleveland with 31 seconds on the clock.
To open the second half, the teams went back and forth, both trying to gain some momentum as the game ticked along. Then, it was the Redhawks turn to take a big lead as they looked to pull away from the Cougars.
With 11:23 to play, Milos Vranes hit a pair of free throws to give the Redhawks a nine-point lead, at 52-43. While the Cougars would attempt to cut into the lead and try to retake one of their own, they were unable to overcome the deficit.
Burak Eslik hit a free throw with 4:40 to play to cut the deficit down to five points, at 60-55. But, that was as close as they’d get the rest of the way. Timely free throw shooting over the final two-plus minutes sealed the deal for the visitors.
Southeast Missouri State held on down the stretch for the 71-67 win over SIU-Edwardsville, moving into a tie for first-place in the West Division in the process.
Guards Antonius Cleveland and Denzel Mahoney led the way for the Redhawks. Cleveland scored a team-best 19 points, while Mahoney chipped in with 18 points and 8 rebounds.
Forward Trey Kellum added 10 points of his own in the victory.
Despite the loss, forward Jalen Henry had himself quite the night for the Cougars. He scored a game-high 22 points, while also pulling down 9 rebounds. Burak Eslik added 18 points of his own.
Carlos Anderson had just five points off the bench in the loss.
The losing ways continue for the SIU-Edwardsville Cougars (5-21, 0-12), who suffered their 12th straight defeat. They return to the court on Saturday to take on the UT-Martin Skyhawks.
With the win, the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (12-15, 7-5) moved into a tie for first in the West Division with the Skyhawks. They will look to keep pace with UT-Martin, or move ahead, on Saturday when they close out the road portion of their regular season schedule with a date against the Eastern Illinois Panthers.
– T. Bennett