For the second straight season, the OVC West leader is leaving Edwardsville with a loss. But unlike last season, SIUE isn’t not just a thorn in the Racers’ side; they’re bona fide contenders, in a division where seemingly no one is dominant.
The Cougars held Murray State without a field goal for 6:53 during a critical stretch during the second half, on their way to a 67-60 win. SIUE held the Racers to 4-21 shooting from three-point range for the game, and just 23 points in the second half.
While Murray state got, and missed, some open looks from three-point range, SIUE has now held every conference opponent to 30% or worse shooting from outside the arc.
“Anytime you think you’ve got it figured out, I’m telling you, you’re going to get your butt kicked the next time”
SIUE’s defense spent the stretch run playing a zone defense, which both coaches admit bothered the Racers.
“I’ll tell you what, we played more zone this year than I ever wanted to,” SIUE head coach Lennox Forrester said after the game. “But when things are working for you, you’re just going to stick with it.”
It wasn’t just the defense that was working; the offense shot 57.7% from the floor in the final 20 minutes. Rozell Nunn finished with a game-high 20 points, on 8-12 shooting from the field, and Christian Salecich was a perfect 3-3 from three-point range. His final three that put the Cougars in the lead for good.
“It just happened to be my night,” Salecich said. “When things get flowing really well, when we move the ball really well and guys get open shots, we look really good.”
The win moves SIUE to 6-3 at the Vadalabene Center on the year, and 3-1 in OVC play, just one win short of their conference total from a year ago. At 3-3 in conference, they currently hold second place in a seemingly constantly changing West Division. With two wins over divisional rivals in the last three days, many are hoping this week is a turning point in SIUE’s season.
“I’d like to think so,” Salecich said. “Murray State is a fantastic team. Just look at their resume. But we’re just focusing on the next game. We’re going to celebrate a good win, but we’re going to continue moving forward.”
“You hope so,” Forrester added. “Just the game of basketball, if you’re not ready for the next one, you’re most definitely going to get beat. It can’t be a turning point, like ‘we’ve got it figured out.’ Because I can tell you this, even from a coach, players, whoever it is: anytime you think you’ve got it figured out, I’m telling you, you’re going to get your butt kicked the next time.”
While they’re posting a solid record at home, SIUE is still looking for their first true road win of the year. With the next three conference games all away from the friendly confines of Edwardsville, they’re hoping it comes sooner rather than later.