CARBONDALE — The celebration continued late into the night Wednesday for the SIUE Cougars.
They certainly had plenty to toast.
The Cougars upended sister school SIUC, 76-74, in front of 4,817 fans at the SIU Arena for SIUE’s first win in eight men's basketball tries against the Salukis. The Cougars, ending a seven-game skid that dated to their season-opening victory against Arkansas State, improved to 2-7. The Salukis dropped to 8-2.
Call it a signature win for first-year head coach Jon Harris and one of the most memorable victories in the 48-year-old history of the program.
“It’s a great feeling to beat any team with an 8-1 record,” said SIUE guard Connor Wheeler, a 6-foot-2 senior from Carbondale. “But this is like a dream come true, beating a D-1 team in my hometown.”
Harris was equally thrilled.
“I had no idea it was the first time we have beaten them,” he said. “That’s impressive. We did a good job and found a way to get a win.”
It didn’t come easy, though the Cougars led most of the way. They shot in front 6-2 early on and led 39-37 at half. SIUE stretched its advantage to 63-52 with 6:52 remaining, then the Salukis staged a comeback.
They managed to knot things at 74-74 with 35 seconds to play before C.J. Carr hit the winning shot 10 seconds later.
Carr and teammate Burak Eslik, a junior and transfer from Lewis and Clark Community College, ignited the Cougars. Eslik scored a game-high 23 points on 8 of 15 shooting, including 4 of 6 treys. He netted 14 points the first half. Carr tallied 16 points, so the pair of SIUE guards combined for 39 points, or more than half of the Cougars’ scoring.
“We came out flat and they shot the ball well,” said the Salukis’ Sean O’Brien, a 15-point performer. “They outplayed us the whole game and we didn’t deserve to win.”
Teammate Anthony Beane led SIUC with 21 points and Edwardsville graduate Armon Fletcher, a 6-4 redshirt freshman, pitched in 10 points. Poor free throw shooting — 21 of 36 — cost the Salukis. They made 25 of 51 shots from the field, though they were just 3 of 15 on their 3-pointers.
The Cougars connected on 25 of 46 shots, including 10 of 16 treys. Grant Fiorentinos contributed 13 points, while freshman Carlos Anderson collected 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 point in 30 minutes.
Salukis’ coach Barry Hinson lauded the Cougars’ performance.
“Congratulations to SIUE,” he said. “They were ready to play and they deserved to win. They out-competed, out-rebounded and out-hustled us. Everybody played scared for us except Anthony Beane.”
O’Brien noted, “Maybe we took them too lightly.”
Hinson said the loss was akin to a reality check, perhaps like a slap across the face.
“We thought we were really hot stuff,” he said. “It was really disheartening tonight, but hopefully, we can learn from this. It’s a hard lesson to learn, though sometimes life gives you hard lessons.”
The Cougars welcome Portland State in a 4 p.m. game Saturday and then play Monday, Dec. 21 at USC. The Salukis entertain North Texas on Saturday, before traveling to Murray State (Dec. 18) and Saint Louis University (Dec. 21)
SIUE 76, SIUC 74
SIUE 39 37 — 76
SIUC 37 37 — 74
SIUE (2-7) – Burak Eslik 23, C.J. Carr 16, Carlos Anderson 1, Yemi Makanjuola 1, Keenan Simmons 4, Devin Thornton 9, Grant Fiorentinos 13, Jake Newton 2, Connor Wheeler 3, Jalen Henry 4. 2FG-15 3FG-10 FT-16 PF-29
SIUC (8-2) – Sean O’Brien 15, Mike Rodriquez 11, Anthony Beane 21, Leo Vincent 4, Austin Weiher 4, Armon Fletcher 10, Bola Olaniyan 9. 2FG-22 3FG-3 FT-21 PF-22