Eastern suffers tough loss to SIUE Thursday

Adam+Tumino+%7C+The+Daily+Eastern+News%0AMack+Smith+attempts+a+layup+during+Eastern%27s+76-74+loss+to+SIUE+Thursday+in+Lantz+Arena.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Mack Smith attempts a layup during Eastern’s 76-74 loss to SIUE Thursday in Lantz Arena.

Blake Faith, Men's Basketball Reporter

Junior Mack Smith came out firing, knocking down a three-pointer in the opening minutes to secure second-place in NCAA Division I history with 74 consecutive games with a three-pointer made. 

Southern Illinois Edwardsville took advantage of their opportunities and held on to win a back-and-forth game 76-74. The Cougars were led by Mike Adewunmi’s 25 points; he only averaged 7.9 points per game prior.

Midway in the second half the Cougars turned the Panthers’ turnovers into a 10-4 run, behind the scoring of Adewunmi, who scored six points in the paint to give the Cougars a 52-42 lead. 

The Panthers relied on the interior presence of junior Jordan Skipper-Brown and the playmaking abilities of juniors Josiah Walace and Smith. Skipper-Brown scored four of his 12 points and Wallace scored eight points from the midrange to help narrow the Cougars’ lead to 68-66. 

The Cougars rallied with their season-leading scorer Zeke Moore making a three-pointer and Adewunmi taking advantage of a mishandled rebound by the Panthers. Smith answered back by making a three-pointer and made three free-throws to narrow the Cougars’ lead to 74-72. 

“We just didn’t do it enough,” Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour said. “The minute SIUE figured out that they could rebound and score on these guys we didn’t put up resistance.”

The Panthers then had two shots to win from a Wallace layup and a missed putback dunk by Skipper-Brown, but both failed to make the shots. Wallace threw a full-court pass to Smith who finished the layup as time expired. Wallace and Smith finished the game with 20 and 25 points, respectively.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Smith said. “They’re having a tough season and we’re having a tough season, but they came out and wanted it more than us. They were always one step ahead of us and we needed to come out better.”

The first half saw both teams battling defensively. The Cougar defense focused on junior guard Josiah Wallace forcing him to start the game 0-of-6 from the field. Wallace got his offense going late in the first half making a three-pointer and a three-point layup play to put the Panthers up 26-20. 

Smith started with three-point shooting, but used his ability to finish in the paint to his advantage. Smith drove to the basket including a finger-roll layup to finish the first half with 11 points. Late in the first half Smith hit his second three-pointer to put the Panthers up 29-22. 

The Cougars then capitalized on the Panthers’ sloppy play by turning the Panther turnovers into a 9-3 run to close the Panthers’ lead to 32-31 to end the first half. Adewunmi scored four of his nine points during that run by getting to the rim for a layup and making a mid-range jumper.

With the loss the Panthers fall to 12-13 overall and 5-8 in conference play. The loss is only their second home loss of the season. 

“There is no magical thing you just have to play hard and make plays,” Spoonhour said. “We eventually did it, but you don’t wait until around the seven minute mark to do it. The team we had in the last seven minutes is how you’re supposed to play all of the time.”

Eastern’s men’s basketball will head to Tennessee to face Tennessee-Martin Saturday at 3:15 p.m.

Blake Faith can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]