EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Eastern Illinois made six crucial free throws in the final 16 seconds as the Panthers escaped with a 78-74 win at SIUE on Thursday night.
EIU improved to 9-15 overall, 5-8 in the OVC. The Panthers will host Austin Peay on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. in Lantz Arena. SIUE fell to 8-16 overall, 4-9 overall.
"A lot of different guys stepped up and made plays and that's what is going to have to happen the rest of the year," EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. "Ray (Crossland) had a great game and he made baskets, which is fine, but he helped move the ball and that's important. Devante (Price) didn't play a ton, but he had some big possessions in the second half. He had a three that they guarded us well and we swung it around and he hit a three and that felt like a dagger.
"Price, he made some free throws late and that's not easy to do when you haven't had to make one under pressure in a long time."
EIU was held without a field goal for the final 2:52 as Mack Smith scored the final Panthers field goal putting EIU up 68-55. EIU ended the game shooting 57 percent from the floor going 28-of-49 from the floor.
SIUE chipped away at the EIU lead with Daniel Kinchen scoring nine of 11 points for the Cougars as they cut a double-digit EIU lead down to four points with 1:13 remaining on Kinchen’s bucket. He finished with 21 points leading SIUE in scoring. Kinchen’s bucket with 29 seconds left to made it 72-68.
After EIU missed a pair of free throws, Jalen Henry converted free throws for SIUE to make it a two-point game with 19 seconds remaining.
Montell Goodwin, DeVantae’ Price and Mussa Dama all made free throws in the final 16 seconds as EIU held on for the win. The Panthers were 13-of-16 from the foul line in the second half and 15-of-19 for the game.
"Muusa was energetic and he was a force around the basket and I thought he remembered his assignments well defensively," Spoonhour said.
Trailing 22-19 with 5:07 to play in the first half following a 3-pointer by Kinchen, Eastern Illinois answered with a quick barrage of its own 3-pointers as EIU went on an 11-0 run.
Smith tied the game at 22-22 before Goodwin sank back-to-back 3-pointers. Goodwin then dropped in a running lay-up with 2:17 to play in the first to make it 30-22. Goodwin added another lay-up with 35 seconds left in the half as he scored 13 of his 21 points in the first half.
EIU shot 56 percent in the first half as they held a 32-26 lead. St. Louis native Ray Crossland scored seven of the Panthers first eight points. He finished the game with 17.
After connecting from 3-point range in the first half, the Panthers went down low in the second half with Dama scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half. Dama added three blocks in the game as he moved into third on the Panthers career list with 87 blocks.
EIU had its biggest lead of the game at 16 points with 7:23 to play in the game. Smith was the Panthers fourth double figure scorer with 12 points as the freshman now has seven straight double figure games. Price finished with nine points off the bench.
Henry finished with 18 points while Kennan Simmons posted a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds.
"(Henry) did a good job late of attacking and making us foul him. Lucas Jones really did a good job just being around him a lot of the time and so did (Aboubacar) Diallo," Spoonhour said. "It's hard for Lucas to guard Henry because Henry outweighs him. Henry is a good player and is hard to defend because he's big and strong but Lucas did a good job."
JG-TC's Justin Rust contributed to the story.