EDWARDSVILLE – Carlos Anderson had the time of his life Friday night at the Vadalabene Center.
So did the rest of the SIUE Cougars.
They won their opener for first-year head coach Jon Harris by defeating Arkansas State, 79-70, in front of 1,592 fans.
“It was a blessing,” said Anderson, a college freshman and Alton High graduate. “We had a great atmosphere here and everybody was excited about a new beginning.”
Harris, a 1998 Edwardsville High graduate, embraced his initial coaching victory in his hometown. He was an assistant coach at California last season.
“There are a range of emotions and I’m very excited about it,” Harris said. “It was a special experience for me and our guys played like a veteran club tonight.”
The SIUE women, meanwhile, began their season by blasting Northern Illinois, 93-67, at the VC.
Anderson scored seven points and snared seven rebounds in his debut. His 3-pointer with 4:19 to go stretched a SIUE advantage to 66-59 and the Cougars never looked back.
“There were a lot of nerves at first and I was trying to find my groove,” Anderson said.
The Cougars found it in the second half by outscoring Arkansas State 42-33. It was 37-all at half.
Jalen Henry (18 points), Burak Eslik (13 points) and Yemi Makanjuola (11 points) added to the Cougars’ cause. Eslik, a 6-foot-4 junior, played at Lewis and Clark Community College the past two years.
“Our defense and the reinforcements off our bench made the difference in the second half,” Anderson said.
Harris added, “The game was hanging in the balance and our guys didn’t get rattled at all. We hit some big shots.”
Next up for the Cougars is neighbor Saint Louis University, which comes calling at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’ll be a dogfight and it should be a great atmosphere,” Harris said.
The torrid Cougars made 29 of 60 shots, including 9 of 18 treys, in a high-scoring opening outing. SIUE, rated the team to beat in the 12-school Ohio Valley Conference, also converted 26 of 32 free throws.
“We have a lot of difference weapons who can score,” SIUE coach Paula Buscher said. “We shot the ball well, moved it well and then got some defensive stops.”
Four Cougars scored in double figures, including Edwardsville High graduate Lauren White, a redshirt sophomore and Northern Kentucky transfer. She scored 16 points.
“This game was a good one for the rest of the season,” White said. “We came out with a lot of energy and have a good offense going here.”
White’s addition should provide the Cougars with a booster shot.
“She brings a lot of leadership to our team,” Buscher said. “Lauren is a perfectionist and she doesn’t get tired.”
Teammates Shronda Butts (17 points), Sidney Smith (15 points) and Donshel Beck (13 points) also scored in doubles figures. Smith made 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range to account for all of her points.
“Sidney gave us a lot of confidence in making all of those shots,” White said of Smith, a 5-8 sophomore guard from Carterville.
Buscher added, “Sidney has a green light to shoot, so for her, those (3-pointers) are good shots.”
The women’s game features four 10-minute quarters instead of 20-minute halves this season. White noted the change.
“It’s different. It makes the game seem longer,” she said.