EUREKA – The Eureka men's basketball team rallied back from down 11 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes and seized an unforgettable 71-70 comeback victory over Cornell College at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center on Thursday.
Down 57-68, the Red Devils scored 11 straight points and finished the game on a 14-2 run. The win was the Red Devils' third straight and it moved the team to 5-2 on the season.
Cornell previously beat Eureka 96-71 at its place and the Rams led for most of the game on Thursday, but the Red Devils' drive never wavered. And, by the final buzzer, they had made sure this night belonged to them.
EC head coach Chip Wilde credited the win to the team's ability to "stick with it."
"I know that's very cliché, but there's not a better example of it than tonight," he said. "We hung in there, and when the buzzer went off the off, we had more points."
The Red Devils got there after senior guard Ian Milsteadt (East Peoria, Ill./East Peoria) drove in between three Rams to score through contact and tie the game at 70 with 18.3 seconds remaining. A free throw would give the Red Devils a one-point advantage.
"I was struggling the whole game," Milesteadt said. "My teammates made sure I kept with it and luckily, at the end, I found the net.
"I was very confident. I know potential I have as a free-throw shooter."
Milsteadt went to the line, took two dribbles, bent his knees and calmly sunk what ended up being the game-winning free throw.
Cornell came down and put the ball in the hands of leading scorer Cooper Kabela, who took it into the lane and tried to get a spinning floater to go. Sophomore Andrew Gonzalez (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) kept a hand in his face every step of the way, and when the shot went up, he was there to grab it and hug it to his chest as time expired.
"I had to come up for my team," Gonzalez said. "Go down there and get a stop and do what we needed to get done."
Milsteadt finished with a game-high 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks while going 7-for-22 from the floor. Fellow senior guard Chris Daniels notched 18 points with nine rebounds and four assists while going 8-of-18 from the field.
Gonzalez notched a career-high 14 points and had seven rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench. Senior center Jaedon Banks (Peoria Heights, Ill./Peoria Heights) played tough defense in the post against a physical and imposing team and racked up seven blocks to go with nine rebounds and four points.
Point guard Jalen Hosea (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) led the Red Devils offense on the floor and the team in minutes with 36 while adding four points.
The Red Devils rally began with putback bucket by Milsteadt with 3:07 left. He got fouled and made the ensuing free throw to make it 68-60.
Cornell soon called a timeout and promptly turned the ball over near the end of the shot clock on the next possession.
Milsteadt drilled a 3-pointer on the elbow after a handoff by McKinty on the next Eureka possession to cut the lead to five with 2:23 remaining. Then, two possessions later, the Rams turned the ball over again. Daniels snagged a lost ball and took it all the way and made the bucket for an and-one with 1:10 left.
That made it a two-point game. After another Cornell timeout, Milsteadt batted a pass away in the Cornell backcourt and stormed to the hoop. The layup didn't go in, but Daniels was there to retrieve it and put it back up to tie the game at 68-68.
Kabela scored to regain the lead with 31.5 seconds left, setting up Milsteadt's fateful last attack of the basket.
"It was one of the best team games we've had all year," Milsteadt said. "They (my teammates) fought the whole time and kept me in it."
The Red Devils trailed by as many 13 points in the first half, but with a combination of ferious defense, hard-nosed rebounding and poise, they made up the difference late. Despite Cornell's size, Eureka outrebounded Cornell 45-43 while racking up 10 blocks and four steals.
"We started off strong, but we kind of went into a drought in the middle," Daniels said. "But that's what I like about this team: it's resilient. We played for all 40 minutes."
The win was Wilde's 169th at Eureka, putting him ahead of the legendary Leo "Doc" Traister for second all-time in program history.
The Red Devils will look to ride this wave of momentum to a fourth straight win and a 3-0 start in SLIAC play when they take on Spalding on Saturday at 3 p.m.
"It feels great," Milsteadt said. "We're on a winning streak. We're hungry and we're going to keep going."