On Friday night the Cougars pulled off the upset of the Southwest Tennessee Saluqis by an 84-74 final tally and then had their way with the Eagles of Dyersburg State on Saturday afternoon by a final score of 87-71.
The news was not as good for Lady Cougar fans as the Cleveland State ladies dropped both of their games — to Southwest on Friday (74-59) and on Saturday letting a late lead slip away to fall 70-62 to the Lady Eagles.
The Cougars (4-0, 2-0) made quick work of the Eagles (3-2, 0-2), opening the Saturday afternoon matinee with a 15-4 run and never looking back. Gabe Dando got the home team off and running with a trifecta of three-pointers in the opening minutes while Kahan Swift continued his good work in the paint with a pair of putbacks.
Filippe Goncalves and Jameico McPherson came off the Cougar bench and put points on the board immediately as the Cleveland State lead grew rapidly to 24 points. Tim Triplett added a bucket in the paint as the Cougars took their largest lead to the break at 43-26.
It was the same verse, second chapter for Dando as he knocked down two quick long-range bombs to start the second half as he did the first. Xavier Okoro, Tim Triplett and Tre Everette came off the Cougar bench and helped extend the lead to 20-plus points and that’s about how it remained until the buzzer. Triplett hit a 3-pointer and Goncalves did the same as he put the exclamation point on a big weekend of basketball for the Cougars.
"You can't start out much better than two big conference wins on the first conference weekend," explained Cougar coach Lee Cigliano. "I know the guys think that I am a broken record, but I keep telling them that we are going to need all 10 guys to contribute in a positive manner to be successful, and that is exactly what they did this weekend. We played as a team, everyone did their part and we won two games. It truly was a total team effort."
Dando led six Cougars in double digit scoring with 15 points, Ralph Eason had 14 points, seven boards and six assists, Swift finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds, Goncalves and Triplett added 11 points each and Trey Suttles had 10 points.
Marty Wilkerson led the Eagles with 15 points and Caleb Woods had 10.
LADY EAGLES 70
LADY COUGARS 62
The Lady Cougars jumped out to a quick 9-2 advantage over the Lady Eagles, but then cooled off a bit as Dyersburg mounted a rally and took its first lead midway through the first half 17-16 on a layup from Christiana Purvis. The lead changed hands eight times after that as Purvis added a three-point play only to see Shadave Taylor do the same thing on the next trip down the court for the Lady Cougars.
Jara Gasper got in on the three-point play fun with one of her own at the three-minute mark to put the home team on top, and Robyn Anthony added a nice left-handed layup to put Cleveland State on top by five points. Monica Womack nailed a trey at the halftime buzzer for Dyersburg to cut the Lady Cougar lead to 32-30 at the break.
A steal and a layup by Anthony and another steal and layup from Me'Lisa Martinez helped the Lady Cougars maintain their slim lead throughout most of the second half. Dyersburg just kept hanging around, though and finally took a 50-49 lead on a 3-pointer from Kindra Brown. Hannah Brown countered with a trey to put Cleveland State back on top, but Marina Harwell put Dyersburg on top for good with a pair of clutch long-range shots. The visitors then hit 6-of-8 free throws to secure the win.
"We let this one get away from us," said Lady Cougar coach Dan Lumpkin. "It is very disappointing, we didn’t defend down the stretch. We gave them wide-open threes and they hit them. We had a lead with three minutes to play and let it get away."
Ciera Anderson led the Lady Cougars (1-3, 0-2) with 15 points and eight boards while Jara Gasper added 11 points. Harwell paced the Lady Eagles with 16 points while Kelsey Nowlin added 12 and Brown and Purvis netted 10 each.
COUGARS 84 SALUQIS 74
The tall trees of the Southwest Tennessee Saluqis appeared as if they would run the Cougars right out of their own gym Friday night, as the visitors opened the game with a 21-7 run.
The Cougars weathered the storm though, and steadily cut into the lead the rest of the half. Tre Everette came off the Cleveland State bench and immediately knocked down a 3-pointer, and along with running buddies Tim Triplett and Xavier Okoro turned up the intensity level a couple of notches.
Eason and Travis Jones then took turns blowing by Saluqi defenders with relative ease as they each hit a pair of acrobatic, off-balance layups to cut the lead to only three points with three minutes left in the half. A steal and a rim-rattling tomahawk slam dunk by Eason brought the crowd to its feet and sliced the lead to a single digit. Jones added another layup to the cause and just like that the Cougars had erased a 14-point deficit to take a 35-33 halftime lead.
After an apparent good tongue-lashing from their coach at halftime, the Saluquis scored 10 of the first 12 points to start the second half as Marshun Newell and Cedric McAfee hit a 3-pointer each. At the six-minute mark of the game the Cougars finally caught and passed their guests with two layups from Eason, a three-point play from Jones and a pair of long-range shots from Dando to take a 69-66 lead. A huge offensive rebound and putback from Swift broke a tie once again for the Cougars with just over two minutes to go, and from there the home team took control, hitting 8-of-9 free tosses down the stretch to secure the win, their first conference victory of the season.
The Cougars hit 27-of-38 free throws, but improved to hit 17-of-19 in the second half and shot 48 percent from the floor in the second half.
Cleveland State also outrebounded the much taller Saluqis, 46-33, and committed only 12 turnovers.
"This was a big win," said Cigliano. "We shot the ball well, but our hustle and rebounding won this game tonight. Southwest is so tall and athletic, and we outrebounded them. It was a total team effort. We got a lift from our bench as well."
Eason led the Cougar charge with 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Trey Suttles had and outstanding game with 15 points and 15 rebounds, Jones finished with 13 points and Everette had 11. Chris Campbell led the Saluqis with 23 points, McAfee had 17 and Newell had 16.
LADY SALUQIS 74
LADY COUGARS 59
The Lady Cougars were not as fortunate as the men Friday night as they dug themselves a big hole early and were not able to crawl out. The Lady Saluqis sizzled the nets right out of the gate with a 20-5 run and never looked back, shooting 55 percent from the floor to only 26 percent for the home team.
The Southwest lead grew to as many as 22 points midway through the first half as Teneisha Lurry scored from all points on the floor, including a 3-pointer and several driving layups in knocking down 15 points in the half. The Lady Cougars warmed a bit in the final minutes as Shea Nunn and Robyn Anthony knocked down a trey each and Mercedes Owens added a pair of treys to help the Lady Cougars slice the lead to 13 points, 43-30 at halftime.
The Lady Saluqis raced out to a 20-plus margin in the second half, but once again the Lady Cougars made a run with Owens hitting two more long-range shots and Ciera Anderson adding six tough points in the paint. The home team cut the lead to 11 and had a possession to slice it to single digits, but the Lady Saluqis righted the ship and finished off their first conference win of the season.
Lurry paced the Lady Saluqis (2-1, 1-0) with 19 points while Iesha Carruthers added 11. Owens led the Lady Cougars with 13 points, Anderson had 12 points and eight boards while Anthony added 10 points.
The Cougars will host Bryan College on Monday at 7 p.m. while the Lady Cougars will travel to Georgia Northwestern on Tuesday.