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Tigers beat transitional SIUE

Saturday, December 27, 2008 | 6:34 p.m. CST; updated 10:13 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 20, 2009
SIU-Edwardsville guard Mark Yelovich dribbles past MU center Steve Moore. Yelovich led the team in points with 13.

COLUMBIA — It isn't easy to become an NCAA Division I men's basketball team. Just ask Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

The Cougars are in the first of four transitional seasons moving from Division II to Division I. After a 107-57 loss to No. 25 Missouri on Saturday at Mizzou Arena, SIUE is 2-11, including six losses by 18 points or more.

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They are not eligible to compete in the NCAA Tournament during the four-year transition and won't be able to qualify for the postseason until 2012-13. The team is competing as an independent until it joins the Ohio Valley Conference in 2011-12.

The transition process is difficult, but SIUE coach Lennox Forrester is trying to make the best of the situation.

"The attitude of our players has been pretty positive," Forrester said. "Even when we get beat, they still seem to bounce back and be ready for the next challenge."

Eleven of the Cougars' 13 games have been away from home. They play 15 games against Division I opponents this season. None of those games are at home.

"Obviously, the challenging part is getting out on the road," Forrester said. "I'm sure it affects them in some way but these guys, they're tough."

Freshman forward Mark Yelovich, who led SIUE with 13 points against the Tigers, enjoys playing games all over the country against strong competition.

"It's fun," Yelovich said. "Even though we're losing, we get to play teams like Missouri and Wisconsin."

SIUE won't be eligible to compete in the postseason during Yelovich's career, but he knew about the transition process before he committed. He said the switch to Divison I was what drew him and his fellow freshmen to SIUE.

"D-I is always someone's high school dream," Yelovich said.

Both of SIUE's home games so far this season came against Division III teams. The Cougars lost one of those games, 70-59 to the Millikin Big Blue. Even with all of the struggles, Forrester said that moving to Division I was the correct decision for the Cougars.

"I think the school is growing with a lot of interest and everything like that, and the next step was to go Division I," Forrester said. "I think this was a great move."

An easy game against a fledgling team like SIUE came at the perfect time for the Tigers, whose confidence was lagging after a disappointing loss to Illinois on Tuesday in the Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis.

The Tigers forced 15 turnovers in the first half Saturday and shot 54 percent for the game. All 14 Missouri players scored.

"This game gave us an opportunity to get that bitter taste out of your mouth from Illinois," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said.

Missouri practiced for about three hours on Christmas night to try to fix the team's problems from the Braggin' Rights Game. Anderson spoke with seniors DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence about leadership after the loss.

"I feel like we got to take it upon our shoulders and lead these guys," said Carroll, who scored a game-high 21 points to go with 10 rebounds against SIUE. "That's a lot of pressure on us but, hey, we got to do it."

Carroll said the Tigers want to put the Illinois game behind them and have a fresh start in the new year.

"Tonight is a new beginning for us," Carroll said.


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