EUREKA, Ill. – Eureka College senior guard Austin Nicholas (Brownsburg, Ind./Manitou Springs H.S./Lamar) delivered the go-ahead basket with 2:05 remaining, while junior guard Niko Rivera (Sterling, Ill./Sterling H.S./Sauk Valley) anchored a last-second defensive stand, lifting the Red Devils to a 63-61 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference win over Spalding, Monday night at the Reagan Center.
A layup by Spalding's Jametrius Brasher with 2:18 to play forced a 58-58 deadlock, the 10th tie score of the night. Nicholas answered at the opposite end of the floor for the Red Devils (8-7, 5-2 SLIAC), taking a feed from junior forward Dustin Fritsch (Sterling, Ill./Sterling H.S./Sauk Valley) and knocking down his second triple of the game for a 61-58 advantage at the 2:05 mark. After a steal by EC junior center Mark Lessen (Delavan, Ill./Delavan H.S.), the hosts' lead reached five points (63-58) on an interior bucket from junior guard Rian Nailor (Rock Falls, Ill./Rock Falls H.S./Sauk Valley) with 1:06 remaining.
The Golden Eagles (8-10, 5-4 SLIAC) ended Eureka's brief run with a 3-pointer from Domonique Sangester to trail 63-61 with 46 seconds left. Spalding followed that with a defensive stop to get the ball and a chance to tie or win the game as the clock ticked inside 10 seconds, but Rivera stripped Quayshaun Hamilton on the left wing beyond the 3-point arc as time expired to lock down the Red Devils' second consecutive league victory.
Eureka opened up the largest lead of the night for either team, 16-8, less than eight minutes into the contest before the visitors charged back to force a 23-23 tie. The two squads played to five ties and exchanged the lead once before Tyler St. Julian's 3-point play forced a 30-30 tie that ultimately proved to be the halftime score. The Golden Eagles outrebounded Eureka in the first half, 22-14, and used nine offensive rebounds to compile 11 second-chance points. Lessen led all scorers in the first 20 minutes with eight points.
Spalding led as late as the 8:30 mark of the second half before Rivera drilled a triple for a 48-46 cushion with 8:08 to go. Neither team led by more than two possessions after halftime, and Eureka's five-point advantage in the final two minutes proved to be the biggest lead of the second half for either squad.
Lessen delivered a solid game for the Red Devils, scoring 24 points and snagging 11 rebounds in a career-high 37 minutes played. His effort allowed the Red Devils to enjoy a decisive 38-26 advantage on points scored in the paint. Fritsch also had a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards, while Rivera poured in 10. Junior guard Jordan Kindred (Chrisman, Ill./Chrisman H.S.) recorded three assists to tie Chris Peterson (1990-94) for ninth place on the all-time Eureka list with 259 career assists.
Monday's victory pushed the Red Devils over the .500 mark (8-7) for the first time since owning a 4-3 overall record in mid-December. Eureka's 5-2 league record matches the 2009-10 Red Devils for the best seven-game SLIAC start since EC joined the conference prior to the 2006-07 season.
Brasher led three Golden Eagles in double-figures with 12 points. Spalding ended the contest with a 41-32 advantage on the glass, but distributed just seven assists to go along with 13 turnovers.
Eureka will continue a stretch of 11 consecutive contests against SLIAC competition this Wednesday at Blackburn. Tip-off against the Beavers in Carlinville, Ill. is scheduled for 8 p.m.