I actually wasn't supposed to be at this game, but once again my employers surprised me. They changed my schedule in order for me to cover the above-the-red-line game 120 miles west of St. Louis, which delighted me, as it still is my alma mater, and I like to see them play. But doing the math in my head -- 12:30 tip + two hours for the game + one hour for postgame interviews + two hour drive back to St. Louis -- I figured I would be free from work by 6 p.m. at the latest, and that's exactly how it happened. That left plenty of time to make the 40 minute drive over the Mississippi into Edwardsville. I arrived at the Vadalabene Center, parked so close to the door that a similar spot at my alma mater would cost $10,000 per year to the "Scholarship Fund" and possibly my firstborn child, and strolled in with 15 minutes left on the clock until the 7 p.m. tip-off.
SIUE jumped out to the early lead, spurred by their early sharp-shooting in a cluster of THREE FOR THE E's from Corey Wickware and Mark Yelovich. After six minutes of play, SIUE's lead had ballooned to 17-9, and the thought was maybe, just maybe, we would be in for an upset.
But then the Redhawks, or more Marland Smith, started to swing the momentum back to the visitor's side. Smith went on an individual 7-0 run to close to SIUE lead to a single point, then Nick Niemcyzk canned a short-range jumper to give SEMO the lead. A superhoop from Smith helped push the Redhawk lead to six, and previous experience led me to believe this would be the point SIUE would start to fade.
But it didn't happen.
Kris Davis lit up with five straight points of his own, a layup followed by a steal and another "THREE FOR THE E!" It led to a combined 12-1 SIUE run, and the see-saw swung in favor of the Cougars again.
But it wouldn't hold.
SIUE committed four turnovers in the last four minutes of the half, which SEMO gladly converted into seven points and a five-point halftime lead.
After some area tae kwon do students showed off their wood plank breaking and nunchuk skills, the second half commenced with Southeast Missouri State slowly pulling away thanks to the duo of Marland Smith's 30 points and Tyler Stone's 20.
The stats for this game sat almost as even as possible, except for the obvious made field goals. In fact, SIUE had four scorers in double figures: Davis with 20, Yelovich with 15, Wickware with 13, and Jerome Jones with 12. Any other night against most any opponent, and SIUE most likely comes out with a win. So, despite the loss, encouragement could be taken from SIUE's improvement seen over the course of the season. They stayed close with SEMO for almost 25 minutes, 15 minutes longer than they hung with the class of the OVC, Murray State, in the biggest game in program history. It was longer than they had hung around when they played Big Brother SIU down in Carbondale, and longer than they had hung with Ball State the first time I saw SIUE back in November. SIUE is getting better, slowly but surely.
Of course, the season will end too soon for them, as they are in their last year of transition and have no postseason eligibility. Of course, that didn't stop a video ad for this year's OVC Tournament in Nashville from playing during a timeout, an unfortunate tantalization for the Edwardsville crowd.
And, as I had already decided, I made a post-game trip to a certain dining establishment with ALL CAPS in their sign, and raisins in their toast. Over my plate of hash browns, I reflected on the long day, with two games on both sides of the line. It was a great day with lots of basketball, one I really needed.
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI 85, at SIU EDWARDSVILLE 72 02/11/2012
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI 14-11 (9-4) -- M. Smith 8-12 10-12 30; N. Niemczyk 4-9 0-0 11; T. Stone 10-18 0-0 20; M. Brister 2-6 1-2 5; L. Powell 3-5 2-4 8; M. Porter 2-3 0-0 4; L. Nutt 0-2 2-2 2; C. Wilford 2-3 0-0 5; N. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-58 15-20 85. SIU EDWARDSVILLE 7-15 (5-8) -- M. Yelovich 4-16 6-7 15; K. Davis 7-14 2-5 20; J. Jones 5-12 1-2 12; C. Wickware 4-10 2-2 13; D. Shaffer 2-3 3-4 7; R. Reed 1-2 0-0 2; K. Stineman 1-2 0-0 2; Z. Schneider 0-0 0-0 0; M. Birts 0-1 0-0 0; C. Joy 0-0 0-0 0; D. Boarden 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 24-60 15-22 72.
Three-point goals: SEMO 8-20 (T. Stone 0-1; M. Porter 0-1; L. Nutt 0-2; M. Smith 4-8; N. Niemczyk 3-7; C. Wilford 1-1), SIUE 9-23 (M. Yelovich 1-3; K. Stineman 0-1; J. Jones 1-5; C. Wickware 3-8; K. Davis 4-6); Rebounds: SEMO 32 (M. Smith 9), SIUE 28 (J. Jones 8); Assists: SEMO 19 (M. Brister 5), SIUE 11 (M. Yelovich 2); Total Fouls -- SEMO 15, SIUE 17; Fouled Out: SEMO-L. Powell; SIUE-None.