The Colonels let an18-point lead slip away late in the second half, but battled back in the final minutes to snatch back a 77-74 win from Eastern Illinois on Thursday in McBrayer Arena.
EKU (5-11, 2-1 OVC) has been no stranger to adversity this season, allowing opponents to storm back and pick up wins.
This time, EKU buckled down and made some clutch plays to grab their second OVC win.
The Colonels trailed by one point, 67-66, with three minutes left to play when Jomaru Brown hit Ty Taylor with a pass at the top of the key for a lights-out three-pointer.
A layup from the Panthers tied the game up again, 69-69, with 1:49 left on the clock, but Lachlan Anderson came through with a huge play to put the Colonels back in control.
Under tons of pressure from defenders under the basket, the senior from Australia fought through for an offensive rebound and then tipped the ball into the basket to give EKU back the lead, 71-69.
The Panthers tied the game back up with another jumper, but Brown drove through traffic for a layup to keep the Colonels ahead, 73-71, with less than a minute to go.
Ty Taylor extended that lead to four points after nailing both his free throws at the line.
EIU got back within one point, 75-74, after Mack Smith drained a three-pointer with eight seconds remaining.
However, Taylor ensured a Colonel win after knocking down two more at free throw line to put EKU ahead 77-74.
The Panthers missed a last-second layup as Taylor rebounded the ball at the buzzer.
“I’m so proud of our guys. It was a great win. It kind of almost got away with us, but we rallied back and showed a lot of heart and I was really proud of them… It shows a lot of growth,” EKU head coach A.W. Hamilton said after the win.
Taylor, who ended the game with 17 points and was 7-of-9 from the foul line, said after the game he knew what was at stake at the end of the game when he went 4-of-4 in the final minute of play.
“They were a lot more tough than they should’ve been because we were up by 17 at one point in the game,” the senior guard acknowledged. “But, we practice those a lot. We shoot up to about 50 free throws. And we were at home, so it was just like we were at practice. The very last one (was the only one I was nervous about.) I knew that if I missed it, they could get a layup and tie the game. That was probably the worst one.”
Brown, who came off the bench to lead the Colonels with 24 points, said the team was determined to face down adversity this time.
“We recognized we had been there before. We have been there plenty of times. We just had to pull it out this time and get the win,” the sophomore said. “These home games, we have to get them. It’s important that we take advantage of these four home games.”
Hamilton said he was proud of how his team kept their heads in the final minutes of the game.
“I was proud of Jomaru because he made a basketball play. He came off the ball screen and extended the ball screen and drew the defense and he hit Tyrone because he was open and Tyrone got a clean look and he hit it. Tyrone being a senior, that’s what he does. He hits the free throws late —no hesitation, calm and collected,” Hamilton noted.
Brown said he was determined to provide some energy on Thursday.
“Honestly, coming off the bench I knew I had to bring a spark,” the sophomore said.
The Colonels came out strong on Thursday and quickly took control of the game.
EKU shot 61 percent through the first 13 and a half minutes of the game. The Colonels scored the first six points and went in front 17-4 on a lay-up from Brown.
Another 7-0 run gave the Colones their largest lead of the game of 18 points, 24-6, with 12:37 on the clock in the first half.
When Brown put in a lay-up at the 6:21 mark, the Colonels were 14-of-23 from the field for 60.8 percent and had a 15-point advantage, 35-20.
EKU scored the final four points of the half and led 46-32 at the break.
“We played a really great first half and did so many great things. We knew the challenge with Eastern Illinois was they were going to come back. They did that with Tennessee State last week, they were going to make a charge,” Hamilton said.
After picking up two quick fouls in the first half and forced to go to the bench, JacQuess Hobbs came out in the second half and grabbed a lay-up to give EKU a 16-point lead, 48-32.
However, the Panthers (7-8, 0-3 OVC) rallied as EKU started the second half just 4-of-21 from the field (19 percent).
EIU scored nine-straight points to get within seven, 48-41.
The Colonels went back in front by 11, 54-43, on a three-pointer from the left corner by Anderson with 12:52 to go.
Eastern Illinois rallied once more and then out-scored the home team 21-7, turning that 11-point deficit into a three-point lead.
A Josiah Wallace lay-up drew Eastern Illinois within one, 61-60, with 6:58 showing on the clock.
Mack Smith’s lay-up 31 seconds later gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, 62-61. Shareef Smith capped the run and put EIU ahead 64-61 with a lay-up at the 5:57 mark.
Anderson finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds. Hobbs had eight points and four steals. Tre King had five points and fiver rebound to go along with two blocks.
Wallace led Eastern Illinois with 16 points. George Dixon contributed a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Taylor said the Colonels will look to continue to battle for wins as conference play continues.
“We’ve been dealing with this all year — being up and then losing it at the end. I think this (win tonight) was a big step for us as a team. We won one, finally. We had a big lead and lost it for about two minutes, but we won the game. That’s the biggest message we can take away from this. We have to get better, I was really happy for the team because we pulled out the win tonight. We are getting better,” Taylor said.
The Colonels will close out a four-game home stand on Saturday against SIU-Edwardsville at 4 p.m.