By McNeese SID Matthew Bonnette:
LAKE CHARLES – Ledrick Eackles scored a career-high 31 points despite playing with a stomach bug, and McNeese State returned to Burton Coliseum for the first time in 40 days to beat Incarnate Word 87-72 in Southland Conference men's basketball action on Thursday night.
The Cowboys (9-18, 7-8 SLC) are one step closer to clinching a spot in the conference postseason tournament and can do so with a win on Saturday against Abilene Christian in the season home finale.
Eackles never showed any kind of ailment was affecting him as he knocked down 10 of 17 from the field, was 4 of 7 from three-point range and hit all seven of his free throws. He had 18 points at the half and nearly missed the start of the second half due to the bug, but made it out with about 10 seconds to go in the break.
"He was in the zone tonight," said head coach Dave Simmons. "He was battling a little stomach thing throughout the game. We didn't pencil him in to start the second half be he came out of the locker room right at the horn and said he was ready to go."
McNeese had several opportunities to pull away with the game early on but the sharp shooting of one of the Southland's newest teams kept them in the game until late.
"That was a good team we beat tonight," said Simmons. "I told the guys after the game that we just beat the fourth place team in the league and that when we play like we're capable of playing, we can beat anyone in this league."
Incarnate Word, who was looking to notch its 20th win on the season, fell to 19-6 on the year and is now 7-5 in conference play. The Cardinals are not eligible for postseason play.
McNeese connected on 50 percent of its shots from the floor (32 of 64) and hit 6 of 16 from long range for 38 percent. The up-tempo style of play was different from what the Cowboys are used to playing. The 87 points ties as the most scored in a conference game this season.
"They (UIW) broke our zone early so we had to switch to man," said Simmons. "They have some really good shooters and were rotating the ball around pretty good. But once we switched out of the zone, we were able to get into a flow.
"I thought we were really good on offense but we still have some work to do defensively."
UIW hit 9 of 25 from 3-point range but went on a cold streak after it cut a 61-52 Cowboys lead with 10:45 to go, to just four points four minutes later.
Austin Lewis came up big for McNeese with a couple of dunks, the latter being a one-handed reach back ally-oop from Kevin Hardy that put the Cowboys up by eight with just over three minutes to play.
McNeese closed out the final 4:53 of the game on a 19-8 run.
Craig McFerrin scored 16 points for McNeese with a team-high eight rebounds while Hardy added 14 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.