For the first time since the 2014-15 season, the Colonels are 3-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference
The Eastern Kentucky University men's basketball team fended off a hot-shooting Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville to take a 78-72 victory on Saturday at McBrayer Arena.
With the win, the Colonels are tied for second place in the OVC standings after the first two week of conference play.
“We haven’t been 3-1 since I’ve been here. It is a really, really big deal,” senior Lachlan Anderson said after the game. “I’m very proud of my team. After all the adversity we had to go through in the beginning of the season, it feels great to be 3-1.”
On Saturday, the Colonels faced another tough test as they picked up their second straight victory.
The Cougars (4-13, 1-3 OVC) came out swinging, shooting 73 percent from the field in the first four minutes of the game and were 100 percent (4-for-4) from three-point range.
EKU was also without starter JacQuess Hobbs as he left the game in first couple of minutes of the play after sustaining back-to-back minor injuries.
SIUE took its largest lead of the game with 10 minutes left untill halftime after Zeke Moore nailed his fourth three-pointer of first half.
However, the Colonels rallied and changed up their game.
“We had a hard time guarding them in the half court. I had to bite the bullet and we played 2-3 zone… We had to do it to mix it up on on them... With a thin bench, we knew at some point we would have to probably play zone … I thought that and how hard our kids were fighting won the game for us,” EKU coach A.W. Hamilton said after the game.
Hamilton noted that Russhard Cruickshank stepped up into a point guard role after Hobbs had to go to the bench as everyone else continued to push back against the Cougars.
Freshman Michael Moreno said the team kept playing strong defense during SIUE’s first half run and was eventually able to turn the tides.
“If you put a lot of effort on defense — they are eventually going to miss. We did a good job of finding the shooters and our bigs did a good job of going vertical in the drive. Everyone upped their ante when it came to doing their roles,” Moreno said after the game.
The Colonels used a 7-0 run to cut the Cougars lead down and trailed by five points with three minutes left untill halftime.
Cameron Carmical came off the bench and knocked down three-straight free throws at the line to get the Colonels back within two points (36-34).
Tre King made back-to-back jumpers a minute later to tie the game 38-38, but the Cougars pushed ahead once more with a layup with 58 seconds left in the first half.
Cruickshank’s layup with at 33 seconds tied the game up once again, but the Cougars took a two-point lead into the locker room after a late dunk by Brandon Jackson made it 42-40.
In the second half, the Colonels continued to battle and kept SIUE’s Moore from doing any more scoring damage.
“He’s a big time shooter,” Hamilton said. “We were able to limit him to 5-of-10 for the game and he wasn’t able to score another three in the second half.”
After shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, the Colonels limited SIUE to just 16.7 percent from three-point range in the second.
However, the Cougars continued to battle as Tyresse Williford took over scoring duties from Moore.
SIUE took a 56-55 lead on a lay-up from Williford with 14:04 left in the game.
The Colonels answered and limited the Cougars to just two points over the next four minutes.
Anderson came off the bench and exploded for the Colonels.
EKU rolled off an 8-2 run, with Anderson scoring half of the points during the spurt.
The run was sparked by two free throws from Anderson with 12:10 to play put the Colonels up 57-56.
After that, the Colonels never trailed again.
“We work hard everyday and I love all these guys. No matter what it is, I’m going to come in and do whatever I can for these guys. Nights like tonight, it worked out and we got the win,” Anderson said of his scoring spurt.
A free throw by Jomaru Brown capped the run and gave EKU a 63-58 advantage.
“What can you say about Lachlan Anderson? You’re talking about heart, desire, passion and fight. That was incredible. Inspiring really,” Hamilton said of Anderson’s performance on Friday. “You see that and if you were in the arena that was well worth the price of admission. It was special, you don’t see that very often.”
Anderson made back-to-back dunks to raucus applause by the crowd to keep the Colonels ahead by four points with 3:49 to go.
The Cougars had the ball down three, 72-69, but the Colonels went 6-for-6 at the free throw line in the final minute to secure the win.
With 40 seconds to go, Brown came up with a steal and made a pair of free throws on the other end.
Cruickshank hit two with 16.4 left and Brown put in two more with 2.6 seconds remaining to prevent any SIUE comeback.
For the game, EKU made 27-of-35 (77 percent) at the charity stripe. The Colonels attempted 10 more free throws and out-scored the Cougars (16-for-25) by 11 at the free throw line.
“We came out with an emphasis on toughness,” Moreno said after the game. “They gave us their best punch in the first half and we tried to respond as best as we could and was able to come back. I think we matched every run of theirs with a run of our own tonight.”
SIUE shot 50 percent (25-of-50) from the field compared to 39 percent (22-of-57) for Eastern Kentucky.
However, the Colonels turned 13 offensive rebounds and 17 SIUE turnovers into 28 points in addition to holding an 11-point edge at the free throw line.
Brown finished the night with a team-high 20 points. Anderson had 14 points and nine rebounds. Michael Moreno scored 14 and grabbed eight boards. Cruickshank contributed nine points, six assists and had just one turnover.
Williford led SIUE with 20 points and six rebounds. Zeke Moore added 17 points.
Anderson said the early adversity the Colonels faced earlier in the season has made the team stronger.
“We have a lot of young guys and people that were thrown in the fire right away. When you go through that adversity — you have to grow up pretty quickly. Tonight, everyone showed a lot of growth and we came together,” Anderson said.
The Colonels will play at Belmont on Thursday. Tip-off in Nashville is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.