Donivine Stewart scored a career-high 24 points Saturday to lead Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to its sixth consecutive home win, an 84-78 victory over the University of Tennessee Martin in Ohio Valley Conference play at the Vadalabene Center.
The win moved the Cougars to 6-5 in the OVC and into second place in the West Division, one-half game ahead of Eastern Illinois. SIUE is now 10-15 overall. Both win totals are a game better than last season’s totals. The win also gives SIUE a 9-3 record in home games. The nine home wins are the most for the Cougars since moving to Division I.
Stewart, who scored 17 of his 24 points in the first half, finished the night 8 for 9 from the field, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range. He was 5-7 from the free throw line. He added a game-high eight assists with two rebounds and two steals.
Kris Davis chipped in a season-high 21 points. He was 8-13 from the field and 2-5 from long range. Stewart and Davis have combined for 80 points and 20 assists in two games this season against UT Martin.
“Kris and Donivine have been our leaders this year, and our team really feeds off of them,” SIUE Head Coach Lennox Forrester said. “They’ve been stepping up their game and making some big plays. We’re going to continue to need both of those guys to step up every night to give us a chance to win.”
Christian Salecich was the only other SIUE player to score in double figures. He finished with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting and a trio of 3-pointers.
All eight players to appear in the game scored for SIUE. Rozell Nunn scored seven points and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds. Keaton Jackson scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked a career-high six UT Martin shots.
“I thought this was a team effort. We did some really good things offensively,” Forrester added. “The guys are doing a good job of buying into the game plan and carrying it out so we can win.”
SIUE shot 60.7 percent (17-28) from the field. The Cougars were 8 of 13 from 3-point range during the first half and held a 47-40 edge at halftime.
The Cougars never trailed in the second half despite a Skyhawk run midway through the period. SIUE had its largest lead of the game with 12:38 to play when Salecich hit a 3-pointer to make it 63-51. UT Martin proceeded on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to two points (63-61) with 7:32 to play.
“Our defense still has to get better, but we did a good job of counteracting UT Martin any time they tried to make a run at us,” Forrester said. “UT Martin is a very good offensive team because they can shoot the ball, they can drive it, and they’re hard to guard. We’re just happy we were able to pull this one out at home.”
Five Skyhawks finished with double figure scoring totals. Mike Liabo led the charge with 17 points, including three triples, and eight rebounds. Myles Taylor and Terence Smith each scored 13 points. Smith scored all 13 in the second half. Justin Childs scored 12 points, and Marshun Newell scored 10.
SIUE now faces three consecutive road games, beginning Thursday at Austin Peay. The Cougars will take on Murray State Saturday and Tennessee State the following Wednesday.
“We’ve been better in our last few road games; we just have to finish them,” Forrester said. “We need to play 40 minutes if we want to win. We can’t have lapses, especially on the road.”