EDWARDSVILLE — A quick start didn’t translate into a fast finish for the SIUE Cougars on Wednesday night at the Vadalabene Center.
Rival Saint Louis University overcame a wobbly beginning and defeated the Cougars, 70-60, in front of 3,931 fans. The Billikens improved to 2-0, while the Cougars dropped to 1-1. SLU leads the series 10-1.
“I thought we did some good things and the atmosphere here tonight was incredible,” first-year SIUE coach Jon Harris said. “But we didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to get it done.”
The Cougars were getting it done early, thanks to 6-foot-4 freshman Carlos Anderson of Alton. He scored five of the game’s first seven points as SIUE shot ahead, 7-0. The Cougars led 19-14 midway through the half and Anderson had nine of those points.
“He’s a really good athlete and a competitive kid,” SLU coach Jim Crews said. “He can be a handful at times.”
The Billikens found a way to contain Anderson and corral the Cougars. After SIUE made 6 of its first 10 shots, the Cougars connected on just 1 of their next 18 tries. They were outscored 17-2 during one stretch in the first half and trailed 31-21. SLU led 32-25 at the break.
“It was harder to get shots because they played me tougher,” Anderson said of the Billikens’ intensified defense. “But I will learn from it.”
Harris added, “We’re a young group and I thought we started settling for some shots. I never want to tell our kids not to shoot because I want them to be aggressive. They (Billikens) started packing in their defense and they forced us to be stagnant.
“We need to be a little more patient and make their (opponents) defense shift and work more.”
Anderson provided a steal and thunderous dunk early in the second as the Cougars closed to within 32-29. They knotted things at 38-38 on C.J. Carr’s 3-pointer with 14:59 to go.
More than six minutes later, Anderson sank a pair of free throws to put the Cougars on top 48-47. Teammate Yemi Makanjuola punched in a pair of free throws to make it 50-47 with 7:18 to play.
SLU, however, responded with a nine-point spree for a 56-50 advantage and never yielded the lead. Ash Yacoubou, a 6-4 senior guard from New York, steered them in the right direction. He totaled 22 points and 15 rebounds, including 12 defensive ones.
“He’s very good offensively and defensively,” Crews said.
The Billikens were sound enough on offense to connect on 23 of 54 shots, or 43 percent. Mike Crawford (15 points), Milik Yarbrough (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Miles Reynolds (11 points and four assists) complemented Yacoubou nicely.
“It was a back and forth dogfight where they responded and then we responded,” Harris said.
Inconsistent shooting hounded the Cougars. They made 17 of 60 shots, or 28 percent. And they were 5 of 23 from 3-point range. Lewis and Clark Community College transfer Burak Eslik (15 points) paced the SIUE attack. Makanjuola (13 points) and Jalen Henry (11 points and eight rebounds) contributed to the production.
Harris insists better things are coming. It just takes time.
“What I’ve learned about this team is that they are resilient,” he said. “They have shown some positive signs. We just need to get more precision on both ends.”
Anderson figures that resiliency will grow, especially if the Cougars attract more big crowds. The audience Wednesday at the 4,000-seat VC was one of the largest ones in SIUE history.
“We are blessed to have that kind of community support,” said Anderson, energized by the fans. He made 4 of 9 shots, including 2 treys. Anderson also collected six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
He pointed out, “We have a brand new team and coach, so it’s an awesome opportunity for us.”
SAINT LOUIS 70, SIUE 60
Saint Louis 32 38 – 70
SIUE 25 35 – 60
Saint Louis (2-0) – Miles Reynolds 11, Ash Yacoubou 22, Austin Gillmann 4, Mike Crawford 15, Reggie Agbeko 1, Milik Yarbrough 12, Davell Roby 5. 2FG-19 3FG-4 FT-20 PF-23
SIUE (1-1) – Burak Eslik 15, C.J. Carr 5, Carlos Anderson 13, Yemi Makanjuola 13, Jalen Henry 11, Grant Fiorentinos 3. 2FG-12 3FG-5 FT-21 PF-31