CHARLESTON — SIU Edwardsville has a lot on the line when the Cougars face the Eastern Illinois men's basketball team Saturday at 3:15 p.m. The Cougars come into the game with a 5-12 Ohio Valley Conference record and are tied with Eastern Kentucky for the No. 8 spot in the OVC Tournament. Saturday's game in the final OVC regular game of the season.
According to the tiebreakers, it's simple for SIUE (9-19 overall). If SIUE wins, the Cougars are in the OVC tournament. If the Cougars lose, they have to hope for a Morehead State win over Eastern Kentucky because SIUE owns the tiebreaker over EKU. If SIUE and EKU lose and UT Martin wins its game against Southeast Missouri State, the Skyhawks would tie with those two. SIUE still holds the tiebreaker over both of those schools.
So the Cougars have a good amount to play for against EIU (10-18, 6-11). But EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said SIUE was going to come in and be a tough opponent no matter what was on the line for the Cougars.
"In college basketball, everyone is trying to win every game," Spoonhour said. "You are trying to win every time out. We are all urgent to try and win all of the time. You are still wanting to play well and wanting to win no matter what. They will come in here to try and win the game regardless."
EIU already locked up an OVC Tournament spot with a win over the Skyhawks last Saturday and have a seed on line, which Spoonhour isn't too concerned about. The Panthers would be the No. 7 seed if they beat SIUE and could potentially fall to the No. 8 seed if they lose to the Cougars.
But the Panthers won't know who they would play in the first-round game until after their game anyway. The important part is that EIU already has a spot locked up and wants to win to build some momentum going into the tournament.
"I don't think (the seeding) matters at all. We just want to get in there, and anytime you think too much about that stuff, you are misdirected in where your energy should be," Spoonhour said. "It doesn't make any difference at all. There's teams you might match up better with, but you don't even know who it will be. Every team is in the same deal, you are just trying to win and build on something."
EIU won the first meeting between the two teams, 78-74, on Feb. 8. EIU had a big lead late, but SIUE pressed and was able to get back into the game. Jalen Henry, who leads SIUE with 16.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game to go along with 37 percent shooting from behind the arc, scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds in the loss.
Daniel Kinchen is averaging 11.7 points per game and had 21 points against EIU, and he hit three 3-pointers. Keenan Simmons had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"They have a lot of different guys that can shoot it," Spoonhour said. "They pressed late and maybe if they could do it over again, they might have pressed us earlier, and there's the possibility they could do that again."
The win over SIUE was part of an offensive resurgence for the Panthers. They scored 79 points in a win over Tennessee Tech the game before, and then they scored 78 against the Cougars. EIU has scored 64 or more points in its last six games after struggling offensively in OVC play because of various injuries. EIU scored 66 points against a good Murray State defense on Thursday.
"Mack (Smith) had a really good shooting game and (Montell Goodwin) hit some hard shots. Every shot you get against Murray is hard. I think our ideas and the way we tried to move offensively was good, they are hard to score against," Spoonhour said. "I like the way we've played offensively the last few games. Ray (Crossland), the way he has played recently is good and it's working for us. We gotta get Muusa (Dama) and Aboubacar Diallo to get a couple of stick backs, and that will change a lot of things."
Goodwin leads EIU with 14.9 points per game, including 16.8 in OVC play, to go along with 90 assists and 68 3-pointers this season. He had 21 points, five assists and five rebounds in the win over SIUE. Mack Smith is averaging 12.0 points per game and has hit 48 3-pointers. He had 12 points against SIUE the first time around. Crossland had 17 points and seven rebounds against SIUE.