EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – The Southern Illinois-Edwardsville basketball team got its first taste of the big time on Saturday night.
The Cougars dropped an 82-65 decision to No. 12 Murray State, which now is the NCAA's lone unbeaten men's team, in front of a standing-room only crowd of 4,157.
It was the first sellout at the Vadalabene Center since the Cougars became a Division I school in 2008-09.
"I thought this was an incredible atmosphere for our players to experience," SIUE coach Lennox Forrester said. "This is something they will always remember."
Mark Yelovich led the Cougars (5-12, 3-5) with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Derian Shaffer added 12 points and 11 rebounds, marking the first time two SIUE players recorded double-doubles in a Division I game.
Kris Davis scored 15 points.
The Cougars fell behind by 14 points in the first 7 minutes, but stayed within striking distance the rest of the way.
Murray State (20-0, 8-0 Ohio Valley Conference) led 49-35 at the half, and the advantage stayed between 13 and 22 points throughout the second half.
"I felt we could have done some things better, but I thought our guys played hard," Forrester said.
Yelovich agreed and said it was fun to play in an intense environment. The game was televised by ESPNU, another first for the school, located 21 miles north of St. Louis.
"This will help us more than people think," Yelovich said. "It was the best (atmosphere) I've seen here so far. Great for the team. Great for the program."
Isaiah Canaan led the Racers with 21 points, Jewuan Long added a season-high 17 and Donte Poole scored 14. Ed Daniel chipped in with 10 points. Latreze Mushatt had a team-high eight rebounds.
The Racers used a 16-0 run in the first half to erase a two-point deficit and take control 26-12. Poole hit back-to-back 3-pointers in 24 seconds to complete the run. Canaan also added a trey and Mushatt chipped in with a key basket.
The win puts the Racers all alone at the top of the college basketball world.
"It's a great feeling knowing you've hit a plateau that you've worked so hard for," Poole said. "We're there all alone."
Murray State coach Steve Prohm, in his first season at the helm, is not ready to celebrate just yet.
"This means a lot to our community and our school and I think we realize that," Prohm said. "We've got a great group of kids and they are tremendously humble. I'm proud of each and every one of them. But we know there's a lot more work to be done."
The Racers connected on eight of their first 11 shots to go up by 14. They pushed the lead to 51-35 in the first 16 seconds of the second half on a pair of free throws by Daniel.
"It's fun being the only team that hasn't lost," Canaan said. "I'm sure we're going to keep getting a lot of attention. We'll just keep pushing on."
Murray State, which has led at half in 17 of its 20 games, forced 21 turnovers and scored 32 points off those miscues.
"When we're scoring off our defense we can put up points in a hurry," Prohm said. "That's how we want to play."
Edwardsville got within 42-32 on a pair of baskets by Yelovich and a layup from Shaffer with 3:20 left. But Murray State finished the half by scoring seven of the final 10 points, including a 3-pointer by Canaan.
"They're deserve all the credit they've gotten so far," Yelovich said of the Racers.
Forrester was equally impressed.
"They carry a swagger about them," he said. "They're at least a Sweet Sixteen team and maybe Elite Eight. They could be a so-called Butler."
Murray State has nine regular season games left including two against Southeast Missouri State, which is in second in the OVC.
The Racers have won 20 games in a season for third year in a row and the 25th time in their 87-year history.