EUREKA – The Eureka men's basketball team took down Principia for the third time in nine days and clinched a trip to the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on Tuesday with a 72-63 victory over the Panthers.
It's the Red Devils' first berth to the SLIAC semis since 2019 and third in the last five years. Eureka held Principia – which led the SLIAC in field goal percentage (47.4) in conference play – to 37.3 percent from the floor.
"It was a great team win," said senior Ian Milsteadt (East Peoria, Ill./East Peoria/Illinois Central College). "We fought hard for 40 minutes, played D, and that was the game plan. We went out and executed it."
Milsteadt led the way, dropping a game-high 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field. He hit 2 of 4 3-point tries, went 2-for-2 from the line, gathered six boards, posted two steals and a block.
He also became the 26th player in program history to tally 1,000 points as a Red Devil.
"Obviously, it feels good individually," Milsteadt said, "but I've got bigger things to focus on: getting a ring. And when you focus on that stuff, all the individual accomplishments will come with it."
After hitting the game-tying 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime in Eureka's 84-81 win over the Panthers on Saturday, senior point guard Jalen Hosea (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) tallied 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting while adding three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Junior big man Logan Dorethy (Hamilton, Ill./West Hancock/Hannibal LaGrange) added 13 points and was one rebound shy of a double-double. He also tied with Hosea with a team-high three assists.
Junior Charlie McKinty (Elmwood, Ill./Elmwood/Illinois College) followed with 11 points, three boards, an assist and a steal.
Sixth man Austyn Ellison (Hudson, Ill./Bloomington Central Catholic) tied with Hosea with a team-high three steals to go with five points, two boards and an assist. J'Len Crawford (Bloomington, Ill./Bloomington) pulled down five boards and had two points.
Junior forward Andrew Gonzalez (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) had two boards and two assists while contributing good defense in the post in 14 minutes off the bench. Sophomore big man Lane Thompson (Dwight, Ill./Dwight) scored a basket and pulled down a rebound in nine minutes off the bench.
The Red Devils and Panthers were neck-and-neck for the first 10 minutes of the game, but the home team started to find a little separation in the last 10 of the half.
Leading 20-19, Eureka tallied 10 unanswered to take a 30-19 lead with 3:08 until the break. Hosea scored a layup, Milsteadt scored another following a steal by McKinty, Hosea made two at the line, McKinty made a layup and Milsteadt finished one off his own steal.
EC went into the half leading by 10 and picked up where it left off when play resumed. Within less than three minutes, a McKinty triple off an assist by Dorethy extended the lead to a game-high 18 points.
The Red Devils maintained the sizable lead for a good chunk of the half. When the Panthers came within 11 with back-to-back 3s with a little over 10 minutes left, Eureka scored six straight to make it a 17-point game again.
In the last eight minutes of the game, however, the Panthers started chipping away and came within five in the last two minutes. A pair of late buckets by Dorethy put the game away, though.
"I would give Principia a ton of credit," 15th-year EC men's basketball coach Chip Wilde said "They definitely fought hard, with both back-to-back games at our place, and it could not have been easy. And even to the last couple of minutes, they were hard to put away.
"I'm obviously thrilled that we came away with the win."
Now, the second-seeded Red Devils (15-11) are scheduled to take on third-seeded Blackburn (9-17) in the SLIAC Tournament semifinals at Fontbonne on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Last spring, the Red Devils were the top team in the SLIAC standings when their season ended early due to COVID-19 protocols, and they were unable to prove themselves in the tournament against the Beavers, who won it all.
They have had high expectations all season, and now they are nearly within their grasp.
"I think that starting off with being the preseason No. 1 and ending up getting second, you obviously feel like you fell a little bit short, even though (top-seeded) Fontbonne is a fantastic team," Wilde said. "This has been a pretty focused group, with what we're trying to get done. Every win that we come in here, we're not throwing water around and jumping around.
"We want to come in and take care of business."
"We're all hungry," Milsteadt said. "We've been waiting for this moment for a year, and it's finally here, so we're going to make the most of it, and hopefully, come out with the championship."