Tennessee State entered its regular season finale against Southern Indiana with a lot to play for.
A win would have positioned the Tigers to claim the No .2 seed in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and the double bye that accompanies it.
Southern Indiana, with their tournament status largely cemented, did not have as much riding on the game from a postseason perspective. However, at 15-15 overall, it would have been a feather in the cap of the OVC newcomer to finish with a winning record.
A poor second half for Tennessee State, in which they scored just 28 points, proved to be the Tigers’ undoing as they fell to the Screaming Eagles 93-81 on Saturday.
Although Tennessee State lead for nearly 18 minutes of the first half, Southern Indiana remained in relative striking distance, never falling behind by more than nine points. After a Marcus Fitzgerald Jr. jumper put TSU up 33-24, SIU outscored Tennessee State 13-4 over the remaining 5:33, with Isaiah Swope’s layup tying the game at 37 with just under a minute to go in the half.
A 9-0 run early in the second half gave the Screaming Eagles a 50-45 lead. Jr Clay’s driving layup put the Tigers back out in front 56-55 with 10:55 left in the contest, but that lead was shortlived as a pair of Jeremiah Hernandez free throws put SIU back out in front 57-56.
After an Adong Makuoi layup handed the Tigers back a 58-57, back-to-back 3-pointers from Swopes and Trevor Lakes gave the Screaming Eagles a 63-58 lead with 6:38 left in the contest. SIU would stretch the lead to as much as 12 points on two separate occasions, as the Tigers only shot 28% in the second half.
Swopes and Trevor Lakes led the way for the victorious Screaming Eagles with 25 points apiece. Jelani Simmons added 16 points and six rebounds. Jacob Polakovich chipped in 12 points and hurt the Tigers on the boards with 15 rebounds, including four on the offensive glass.
Clay and Fitzgerald led Tennessee State with 20 points each. Christian Brown was the other Tiger in double figures with 13 points and three rebounds.
With the loss, Tennessee State will enter the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament as the fourth seed, the program’s highest seed since 2016.