EUREKA — After a long wait, the Eureka men's basketball team made its return to Dave Darnall Court and earned an 85-78 victory over Iowa Wesleyan on Saturday.
The Red Devils trailed the Tigers by three points at the half, but with improved shooting from distance and poise on the floor, the home team outscored Iowa Wesleyan by 49-39 in the second half to secure a 7-point win.
"I thought they showed toughness and did not panic," 14th-year EC men's coach Chip Wilde said on the Red Devils' second-half turnaround. "They trusted and played for each other."
Senior Chris Daniels (Peoria, Ill./Peoria) was EC's leading scorer with 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, as well as contributing a team-high five assists, four rebounds and one steal.
Fellow senior guard Ian Milsteadt (East Peoria, Ill./East Peoria) was right there with him with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, including a pair of big 3-pointers. He was a rebound shy of a double-double and contributed three assists.
Senior big man Jaedon Banks (Peoria Heights, Ill./Peoria Heights) notched his first career double-double with 12 points and 11 boards, along with two characteristically monstrous blocks.
Sophomore Andrew Gonzalez (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) posted a career-high 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting in less than 15 minutes off the bench, along with four boards and a pair of momentous triples in the second half.
Junior point guard Jalen Hosea (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) added nine points, while junior Jordan Brooks (St. Joseph, Ill./St. Joseph-Ogden) and junior Peyton McCubbin (Clinton, Ill./Clinton) chipped in with six and five points, respectively.
Iowa Wesleyan guard Kaleb Cresswell recorded a game-high 28 points, racking up 20 in the first half. Returning Third Team All-SLIAC forward Jarryd Fernandes posted 24 points, and the Red Devils limited the rest of the Tigers to single digits.
Eureka jumped out to an early 7-0 lead and were on top until the last few minutes of the first half.
With 2:36 left until halftime, Cresswell knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. His fifth 3-pointer of the half made it 37-36 with less than a minute remaining, and a pair of free throws by Sy Sanchez gave the visitors a 3-point edge at the half.
After halftime, the Tigers picked up where they left off and outscored EC 12-2 to extend the lead to 13 points.
The Red Devils called timeout with 15:41 in the game. Then, Daniels scored twice – one off a dish by Hosea and once off a jumper – to stop the bleeding and start EC's own 12-2 run. Gonzalez hit back-to-back 3s and another Daniels layup put the Red Devils back within three.
With 9:42 left, Brooks drained another triple and put EC down a point. A pair of Milsteadt free throws tied the game less than a minute later. Then, with 7:41 left, Milsteadt hit the go-ahead 3. McCubbin, a transfer from MacMurray, promptly knocked down another one on the next possession to put the Red Devils up six.
The big plays kept coming from there, as Brooks hit another from downtown and Banks slammed home a thunderous dunk off a putback. The Red Devils held off the Tigers the rest of the way.
After shooting 43.6 percent in the first half on Saturday, the Red Devils improved to 55.2 percent in the second while sinking 6-of-11 3-point tries. Free-throw shooting was a weakness (11-20), but the maroon and gold managed to make up for it in other ways. For instance, EC only made nine turnovers to the Tigers' 16, and was able to score 15 off IW turnovers.
Saturday was the Red Devils' first game in 363 days. And, though they returned several players with ample experience, it was also the first game without last year's departed multi-year starters Dakota Bennington, Jordan Dehm and Austin Juergens.
"It's a different team, so you still have to find your identity," Wilde said. "You lose a lot from last year's team, and they're playing different roles this year. I think that's the underrated part."