Eastern Kentucky University men’s basketball head coach A.W. Hamilton wasn’t even born the last time the Colonels had such a strong start in conference play.
With a 70-57 win over Southeast Missouri State University on Saturday, EKU matched their best start in the Ohio Valley Conference since 1979.
That’s 41 years since EKU fans have seen this sort of success.
“It’s a long time ago,” Hamilton said of the strong start. “I’m only 39, so 41 years, that’s a long time.”
The last time EKU started conference play with eight wins in 10 games was during the 1978-79 season. That squad began the OVC schedule with a 9-2 mark.
With the win over SEMO, the Colonels are 8-2 in conference play and 11-12 for the season.
Saturday also marked EKU’s fifth-straight victory.
“They deserve it,” Hamilton said of his team’s recent success. “They wanted it and I’m really proud of this group. We’ve been through a lot. Right now, we have a really good vibe about us.”
That vibe surrounding the Colonels also showed up in the stands at McBrayer Arena on Saturday as the crowd of approximately 2,937 fans cheered EKU to victory.
The atmosphere and excitement was not lost on senior Lachlan Anderson, who came of the bench to eventually lead the Colonels with a game-best and season-high 20 points.
“It means a lot. It means a lot to the people here and to a lot of the fans. These people are very loyal. There have been a lot of fans waiting for a season like this and they deserve a season like this from us in the OVC. They haven’t given up on us… This one is mainly for them. We work hard everyday, but the fans are there and they are the ones that get us over the line,” Anderson said after the game.
The Australian-native hit a career high six three-pointers in the win over SEMO (4-19, 0-10 OVC) and was 7-of-13 from the field and 6-of-12 from behind the arc.
“My teammates were really good at finding me tonight. Coach always tells me to shoot the ball when I’m open and when I get it. Tonight, I just shot it when I was open. The credit goes to all my teammates that passed it to me all night,” Anderson explained.
The senior went on a brilliant run to give his team a double digit lead in the first half.
Anderson scored eight straight points for the Colonels to put them ahead 21-11 with 9:48 left in the first half.
The forward drained a three pointer, got a put-back dunk, then stole the ball and got another three pointer in just 47 seconds.
“I was just excited,” Anderson said with a laugh. “The crowd was going and it helps immensely with the confidence.”
Hamilton praised the Aussie in his post game press conference.
“Lachlan Anderson was unbelievable. It’s just who Lachlan is. He banks in a corner three. You know how hard it is to bank in a corner three? We could go out there and try to do it a hundred times and couldn’t do it. He has some magic to him,” the coach said.
However, SEMO answered.
Later in the half, the Redhawks rolled off a 12-2 run to turn a 10-point deficit into a tie game.
A dunk by Jordan Love capped the run and knotted the score 31-31 with 25 seconds showing on the clock.
Ty Tayler buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the Colonels to the locker room in front 34-31.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well in the first half. We got really good shots, but then we took some rushed shots. We got away from throwing the ball to Tre King and Tre has got to get more touches. We turned (SEMO) over 13 times and in the first half we got up 39 shots... but they just weren’t going in,” Hamilton explained the Colonels first half stutter.
The Colonels hit on 13-of-39 (33.3 percent) in the first half and was 6-of-21 (28 percent) from three point range and only got to the foul line once.
The Redhawks shot 40 percent from both the field and beyond the arc in the first half and was 7-of-10 (70 percent) from the charity stripe.
Jomaru Brown said the Colonels came out in the second half determined as a team to win.
“Coach (Hamilton) just told us to stay together and pull through and we got the W. The adversity is gonna come, it has all year, we just gotta keep playing through it,” Brown explained.
The Colonels eased out to an eight-point lead in the second half, but adversity would come again when SEMO closed within five points midway through the period.
A pair of three-pointers on back-to-back possessions by Anderson stretched the lead to nine, 54-45, with 10:13 remaining.
However, the Redhawks immediately closed the gap to six again.
Powered by strong performances from freshman Tariq Balogun and Brown, EKU regained control and put the game away with a 12-4 run.
The Colonels had a six point lead with 13:11 on the clock, when Balogun came up big.
The freshman got two offensive rebounds and fought through some tough SEMO defense to force the Redhawks to commit three straight fouls.
After Balogun knocked down 1-of-2 free throws at the line, the freshman checked out of the game to loud applause from the crowd.
“I thought Tariq was electric. He’s got a great touch. I thought he gave us a great lift… He’s only been playing for like four years. The kid’s ceiling is so high. He’s got toughness. He’s got things you can’t teach. He’s a really, really smart kid. I love how our fans got behind him,” Hamilton said.
After Nygal Russell put in a lay-up to draw Southeast Missouri to within six again, 54-48, with 8:53 left in the game, EKU answered with another scoring spurt to put the contest out of reach.
Brown hit five free throws and Anderson nailed a pair of 3-pointers during the run. Anderson’s long ball from the right wing with 2:44 left in the game put the Colonels on top 66-53.
Brown put the Colonels ahead by 15 points with 1:17 left to play after he got a layup and a jumper.
A late layup by Sage Jackson cut EKU’s lead back to 13 with 25 seconds remaining.
“In the second half, we moved the ball a little bit better. We were a little more patient. We didn’t rush things and we were able to finish out the game... I thought Jomaru down the stretch was good… He adjusted and finished the game. He is night and day different than who he was just a few months ago. It’s been fun to watch. He’s really taken a huge step,” Hamilton said after the win.
The Colonels shot 39 percent from the field for the game and 31 percent (10-for-32) from 3-point range, but turned 18 Southeast Missouri turnovers into 23 points.
EKU had 13 assists for the game.
Brown finished with 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals. Taylor scored 13 points and pulled down seven boards.
SEMO made 37 percent of its shots overall and 28 percent from deep (5-for-18). Sage Tolbert led the visitors with 19 points and 17 rebounds. Love added 12 points.
EKU will take to the road for a pair of games in Illinois this coming week. The trip begins at Eastern Illinois on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
Hamilton said he believes his tight-nit team can continue to expand upon their success as OVC play continues.
“That’s the special thing about this group. Everybody is behind each other. It’s hard to have a team like that. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I haven’t had many teams like that,” the coach said.