After back-to-back losses, the Colonels (15-4, 9-3 Ohio Valley Conference) desperately needed a strong performance to start off a challenging stretch of road games.
They knew that wouldn't be easy — especially in a place they've never had much success.
"We haven't won in here in forever," EKU coach A.W. Hamilton said of playing in the Vadalabene Center, the home arena of SIU-Edwardsville, in a postgame radio interview. "We had to fight for this one. They made us fight."
The Colonels battled through, though.
Wendell Green Jr., had a team-high 18 points as EKU held off several second-half surges to earn a 78-74 win over the Cougars on Monday afternoon in Edwardsville, Ill.
EKU led by as much as 13 points in the second half, but need two free throws from Green Jr., with 5.5 seconds left to seal the win.
The Colonels forced 17 turnovers, won the battle on the boards (38-32) and hit 20-of-24 free throws as they picked up their first win on the road over SIUE (7-10, 5-6 OVC) in 10 years.
Tre King had 12 points, while Michael Moreno, Cooper Robb and Curt Lewis had 10 points each.
"This was a good win for us. We needed a win," Hamilton said. "I thought we got great balance on the offensive end and we made free throws down the stretch. That's what good teams do."
The Colonels fell to a pair of long-time OVC rivals last weekend at home.
Just hours later after a loss to Murray State on Saturday afternoon, they headed out for the first stop on a seven-game, 14-day, three-state road swing.
The Colonels had lost four-straight games at the Vadalabene Center, but took a 10-point lead (43-33) into halftime after Green Jr., hit a long three-pointer just before the buzzer.
"Wendell has just got the magic to him," Hamilton said.
On the court of the third time in five days, EKU went to its bench frequently in the first half against the Cougars. Six players recorded at least 11 minutes of action and the Colonels got 14 points from non-starters, including seven points from Devontae Blanton and five points from Cheikh Faye.
"We put all those guys in there in the first half and they gave us a huge lift," Hamilton said. "They had more energy. They were moving the ball. They were pushing the ball and they helped us to wear them down."
The Colonels pushed out to a 52-39 lead on a Robb three-pointers, but SIUE kept battling back. An 8-0 run got the Cougars within five points with 12:30 to go.
"We couldn't put them away," Hamilton said. "They fought like crazy."
SIUE pulled even at 68-68 with 4:45 left in regulation.
"We wasted a lot of offensive possessions," Hamilton said. "Their zone got us out of rhythm."
Robb had a big basket and Green Jr., hit a three-pointer to put EKU back in front. The Colonels were 13-of-14 at the free throw line and held on for the win despite shooting just 40.3 percent from the field.
Free throws in the final seconds helped the Colonels earn their first win in Edwardsville, Ill., since Jan. 18, 2011 — before SIUE had become a full-time member of the OVC.
Blanton finished with nine points. Lewis had a team-best seven rebounds. Moreno had six boards and King and Green Jr., had five rebounds each.
Mike Adewunmi had 23 points for the Cougars, who shot 47 percent from the field and hit 7-of-14 three-pointers and 15-of-20 free throws.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Colonels.
EKU is set to take on first-place Belmont (20-1, 14-0) on Thursday in Nashville.
"It's going to be a tough game for us, but it's a huge opportunity," Hamilton said. "We are excited about it."