Jeff Early scored 11 points and had four steals for SIU.
Jan. 2, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Bradley snapped an 11-game road losing streak in the Missouri Valley Conference, rallying to beat Southern Illinois, 66-60, on Wednesday night at SIU Arena.
The Braves (10-4, 2-0) closed out the game on a 13-4 run in the final three minutes, as Walt Lemon scored six of his game-high 20 points during the late flurry. Bradley shot 59 percent in the second half, as Southern struggled to prevent Lemon from slashing to the basket.
"Down the stretch we couldn't get stops," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "What's disappointing is we wanted to make them shoot from the perimeter."
The Salukis (7-6, 0-2) trailed by as many as nine points in the second half, before rallying to take a 56-53 lead with 3:33 to go on a Desmar Jackson pull-up jumper. That's when Lemon took over and SIU self-destructed. First, the junior guard converted a driving layup to cut the deficit to one. Then he stole a pass from Jeff Early and scored on a fast break. After Davante Drinkard missed a dunk for the Salukis, Lemon penetrated and pitched to Jake Eastman for an open 3-pointer. In roughly 60 seconds Southern went from up three to game over.
"We just could not capitalize on any of our easy buckets and put ourselves under an enormous amount of pressure to score," Hinson said. "When you can't make shots, you have no motivation on the defensive end."
For much of the game, Southern played without emotion and seemed on cruise control toward its fourth loss in five games. Hinson intervened early in the second half. After Anthony Beane made a 3-point shot with 13:20 remaining to draw SIU within four, 39-35, Hinson promptly called timeout and waved his arms at the crowd to draw them into the game. SIU got a quick steal and layup by Josh Swan to draw to within two and the fans rose to their feet.
"I just told my staff, 'I gotta get this crowd going, because our team can't,' Hinson explained. "I was so proud of our crowd. I thought they got us back in the game. They got us jump-started, then all of the sudden the emotion and facial expressions changed on our bench."
Unfortunately, the execution didn't improve enough to pull out the victory. The Salukis dug an early hole by making just 7-of-25 shots from the field and missing seven free throws in the first half.
"We don't get easy baskets, we can't, we're too small," Hinson said. "The only way we can get an easy basket right now is to get to the free throw line. In the first half we missed five layups and seven free throws."
Both teams played without their starting centers, and the effects were evident on both sides. Without Will Egolf, the Braves' best 3-point shooter, Bradley made 4-of-13 shots from 3-point range. Southern was equally disadvantaged without Dantiel Daniels, who routinely draws double teams in the post. SIU had little production in the paint outside of Drinkard's seven points.
Although Bradley had a significant height advantage, that didn't translate into many points for the team's front court, thanks to the ferocious defensive play of Early. The 6-foot-1 Saluki forward had four steals and grabbed seven rebounds to go with his 11 points.
"It was hard to throw it inside," said Braves head coach Geno Ford. "The conventional wisdom would say just throw it inside, but Jeff Early is fast and is long and he fights around in the post very well. He's a really tough kid who we recruited solely because of his toughness. We just thought he was tough as nails. We knew when he was going to the four this year they wouldn't miss much of a beat on the block."
SIU was led by Desmar Jackson, who scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but he was only 3-of-7 from the free throw line and Southern was just 13-of-23 as a team.
"If you look what's happened to this ball club in the last four days -- we've lost (Antonio Bryer), we've lost our best big man, we had an emotional loss at Missouri State, and we've tried to handle all that within a matter of four days," he said. "For a team that was already fragile that won eight games last year, that's a lot to put on their plate."
The MVC can be an unforgiving league, as SIU goes on the road to play Evansville and Wichita State in its next two games. The Salukis are 0-2 in the Valley for the first time since 2009, when the team started 0-3.
"I told them this isn't last year," said Hinson. "We're not quitting. We're going to continue to work our tails off and get better. I feel bad for everybody. I feel bad for our fans. I feel bad for our basketball team. I feel bad for our staff. I feel bad for our administration. I wish I could help, and the only way I know to help is to come to practice every day, work hard and try to get better."