ELSAH, Ill. – The Eureka College men's basketball team rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit and held the lead as late as the 6:46 mark of the second half Saturday afternoon at Principia, but the host Panthers held off the visitors' late push to secure a 94-88 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference victory over the Red Devils in Elsah, Ill.
Principia scored the first five points of the game, but the two squads played a tight first half. Eureka responded to its early deficit with nine consecutive points and grabbed its first lead on a Shea Feehan (Peoria, Ill./Notre Dame H.S.) lay-in at the 17:12 mark. The Red Devils led by five points on three separate occasions and as late as the 7:47 mark of the first half when Austin Juergens (Pekin, Ill./Pekin H.S.) split a pair of free throws for a 30-25 cushion.
The Panthers claimed the momentum over the remainder of the first half, inching in front 36-34 on Trevaughn Goodman's bucket with 4:47 left. EC moved back into the lead on a Feehan triple, 42-41, but PC limited the Red Devils to just one field goal over the final 3:06 of the period and scored 13 of the final 15 points to lead 52-44 at intermission.
Eureka threatened the Principia lead for much of the second half and used a 7-0 burst to pull even, 67-67, on a 3-pointer from Dakota Bennington (Peoria, Ill./Peoria Christian H.S./Olivet Nazarene) with 9:36 to go. EC finally regained a 69-68 lead just 64 seconds later thanks to a Jordan Dehm (Metamora, Ill./Metamora H.S.) bucket. Bennington scored again at the 7:50 mark to extend the advantage to three, but Micah Paulson answered with a triple to force a 71-71 tie and Eureka wouldn't lead again.
PC extended its lead to seven over the next several minutes, but the Red Devils had one final push. Eureka clawed within 87-85 and had possession with 1:18 left, but the Panthers rebounded a Eureka miss and got two free throws from Goodman to push their back to four. Eureka wouldn't have possession with a chance to tie again.
Feehan scored 28 for EC, including a pair of foul shots in the final moments of the game that moved him into a third-place tie with Chris Eaton (1990-94) on the Red Devils' modern-era free throw list with 322. Bennington came off the bench to equal a career high with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting and Hank Thomas (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods H.S.) tacked on 18 points. Ryan McElmurry (Galesburg, Ill./Galesburg H.S./Black Hawk) finished with eight assists, one shy of tying his personal best, and Dehm swatted three blocked shots.
Paulson tallied a game-high 34 points for PC. Jeff Ross compiled 15 points and 10 boards for a double-double and was joined by Parker Davidson with 12 points and 12 rebounds. The Panthers enjoyed a lopsided advantage at the charity stripe and took 32 trips to the line. Eureka, which entered the game with an average of more than 22 free throw attempts per game as the league's most accurate free-throw shooting team, shot just nine free throws Saturday.
Eureka will play its second of four SLIAC road game in a 15-day stretch on Wednesday in an 8 p.m. game at Westminster in Fulton, Mo.