By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Colonels (12-3, 2-0 OVC) remain a perfect at home (9-0) after picking up their second-straight conference win Saturday, 78-72 over SIU-Edwardsville.
EKU had to rally late after Edwardsville erased an 11-point deficit to take a 60-58 lead with seven minutes remaining in the game.
Two Corey Walden free throws and a Mike DiNunno three-pointer began a 10-3 run that ended with a Glenn Cosey free throw and a 68-63 Colonels lead with just 3:45 remaining.
After Maurice Wiltz hit two free throws to pull the Cougars within three, baskets by Jeff Johnson, Cosey and Marcus Lewis gave the Colonels a nine-point cushion and they hit their free throws down the stretch to hang on.
DiNunno led four Colonels in double figures with 17 points. Walden added 16 points, four rebounds and four assists before going out with an injury with six minutes left in the game, while Eric Stutz had 13 points and four rebounds and Orlando Williams had 12 points.
Coach Jeff Neubauer said he was happy with the win in a game that was a “learning experience” for his team.
“We have so many guys that are new to OVC basketball and Division I basketball. So we walk into the locker room with a nine-point lead and some of the guys think they are just going to lay down,” Neubauer said. “These are great experiences, when we are up nine at the end of the half and the other team comes firing back at us and actually takes the lead on our own home court. That is good for our team to learn from. And I’m really proud that we did win the game.”
The game was extremely tight for the first 10 minutes, with the lead changing hands several times and neither team holding more than a three-point lead.
The Colonels finally began to put some distance between themselves and the Cougars.
A three-point play by Walden with 8:47 left gave EKU a 19-16 lead that they eventually stretched to nine at 37-28 on the strength of a 10-2 run to close the half.
DiNunno’s third three-pointer of the game gave EKU its biggest lead of the contest at 42-30, two minutes into the second half.
But the Cougars refused to go away and slowly chipped away at the lead and cut it to three at 47-44 with 13 minutes to go.
After a time out by Neubauer, Walden took over the game, single-handedly outscoring SIU-Edwardsville 9-1 over the next three minutes to rebuild the Colonels lead to 10 at 56-46, before the Cougars made their last run to eventually take the lead.
SIUE, which came into the game averaging 40 percent shooting from the field, shot a blistering 60 percent in the game. The Cougars outrebounded the Colonels 28-22, but they committed 17 turnovers, nine more than EKU — a statistic that Neubauer said was the difference in the game.
“When we allow a team to shoot 60 percent, any way you look at it, it is a bad number, so we’ve got to force 17 turnovers,” Neubauer said. “Our defense in the first half was very good, holding them to 28 points. But at one point to start the second half, Edwardsville was 12-of-16 from the field and our defense was really poor, so we have to force the turnovers.”
Even though they were out-rebounded by the Cougars, the Colonels got several big rebounds inside the final three minutes and the defense forced three turnovers late that resulted in EKU points.
Jeff Johnson was in the middle of several of the big plays late in the game. He came up with a steal on the sideline with the Colonels clinging to a three-point lead. Johnson then scored on the other end to push the lead back to five points.
On the ensuing Colonel possession, Johnson tipped a rebound out of the reach of a Cougar and into the hands of Marcus Lewis that gave the Colonels a chance to run more time off the clock before a layup by Cosey extended the lead to 72-65 with a 1:34 left to play.
“We did get some stops down the stretch that allowed us to win the game,” Neubauer said. “Jeff had a huge steal that lead to a transition basket as we took the lead in the last six minutes.”
Johnson had four points, two rebounds and two assists to go along with the one steal.
Lewis finished with six points and three rebounds, while Deverin Muff had four points and two rebounds and Glenn Cosey and Tarius Johnson had three points each.
The Colonels will be back in action Dec. 9 when they travel to Murray to take on the Racers at 8 p.m.