CHARLESTON, Ill. – Despite building double-digit leads in both halves, IUPUI narrowly escaped with a 69-66 win at Eastern Illinois on Wednesday night. Junior Leroy Nobles led four Jaguars in double-digits with 24 points and senior Billy Pettiford added 11 points and seven rebounds in the win.
EIU’s Tyler Laser missed a potential game-tying three from the left wing as the Jaguars sealed its second straight road win to open the season.
IUPUI (2-0) led by seven with 57 seconds left when sophomore Alex Young tipped in a John Ashworth miss, but the hosts refused to go away. After a missed free throw, EIU’s Shaun Pratl hit a three from the left wing to make it 67-63. The Jags got a quick layup from Young, but the Panthers came back with a three from Curry McKinney to make it 69-66 with 15 seconds left.
Another missed free throw left the door open but Laser was pressured Jon Avery and Nobles into a tough shot at the final horn.
“We got the stop when we needed it,” IUPUI Head Coach Ron Hunter said. “It was good to get out of here with this win. In the long run, this is a quality road win. I didn’t think we played the smartest down the stretch, but we got the job done.”
IUPUI roared out to a 10-2 lead in the game’s opening four minutes and later pushed the lead to 11 when redshirt freshman Sean Esposito swished a three from the left side. The lead stayed in double-digits as late as 4:28 in the first half, thanks to another Esposito three but EIU (1-1) ended the first half on a tear. A 7-0 run to close the first stanza cut IUPUI’s lead to 37-35 at the break.
Eastern took its first lead of the game early in the second half, but Nobles’ strong play helped IUPUI get out with the victory. With the score tied at 43 all with 15:43 left, senior Robert Glenn hammered home a two-handed dunk to break the tie and Nobles then tossed in a long three from the left side.
The lead grew to 12 at the 9:33 mark on Nobles’ fourth three of the game but the resilient Panthers hung tough. A quick 6-0 run on back-to-back T.J. Marion jumpers and a Laser layup made it 61-57 with five minutes left, prompting an IUPUI timeout.
Nobles finished the game hitting 8-of-12 from the floor and 4-of-7 from deep and Pettiford scored five of his 11 at the charity stripe in the first half. Young and Glenn also tallied 10 each. Ashworth continued his solid start to the year, handing out eight assists and collecting four steals.
“He’s really playing good basketball right now,” Hunter said. “He does a good job of getting us where we need to be and keeping us in line. That’s all I can ask from him. His contributions really go beyond the boxscore.”
Laser and Pratl led EIU with 14 each as the Panthers outrebounded the more athletic Jags, 31-29.
IUPUI hit 49 percent from the field, including 7-of-20 from beyond the arc.
IUPUI’s whirlwind week will continue with a flight to Daytona Beach, Fla. on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s meeting with Austin Peay inside the Ocean Arena as part of the Glenn Wilkes Classic. Tipoff is slated for 8:15 p.m..