Jan. 10, 2012
By Tom Weber
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Southern Illinois dug itself a very deep hole Tuesday night, and then almost climbed out of it.
Trailing by 21 points late in the first half, SIU used a furious rally to cut the deficit to two points, before eventually succumbing to Missouri State, 77-65.
The Bears (11-6, 4-1) sprinted to a 37-16 lead and appeared headed for an easy win.
"We came out and played with a purpose to start the game," said Missouri State head coach Paul Lusk. "We were all over the floor, we were taking charges, we were getting rebounds, we were running in transition."
Meanwhile, the Salukis (5-11, 2-3) stumbled out of the gate, turning the ball over three times before they made their first field goal. Head coach Chris Lowery ran subs onto the floor left and right, before freshman Harry Whitt finally provided the team with a spark. The 6-foot-11 center, who hadn't played since Christmas Day in Hawaii, hit a 3-pointer and a bank shot as Southern cut the deficit to 42-31 at the half.
"He hasn't played in a month and he's the reason we have a chance," Southern Illinois head coach Chris Lowery said of Whitt, who finished with a career-high eight points, a block and two steals.
The momentum continued into the second half as the Salukis scored the first nine points. Kendal Brown-Surles, who led SIU with 14 points, hit a break-away layup to make the score, 44-42, with 16:53 remaining in the game.
Southern actually had possession with a chance to tie or take the lead, but Jeff Early turned it over. That's when the Bears responded with an 8-0 run to reverse the tide. MSU's senior center Caleb Patterson, who missed the last two games with a concussion, hit a 3-pointer and a short jumper to spark the Bears. He finished with 15 points.
"It changes the game because he can score the basketball on the post," Lusk said. "He made it look easy. When they cut it to two, we had a little pick and pop play and he made a three."
The Salukis made another late run, cutting the deficit to six, 63-57, on a breakaway dunk by Early. They even had a steal and a chance to trim the deficit to four, but Mamadou Seck was whistled for charging on a 3-on-2 fast break.
"Our guys stuck together," Lusk said. "They said, 'we just have to quit turning the basketball over, we have to get stops, we're going to get through this."
Turnovers were a huge problem for both teams. Southern made 21 miscues, while Missouri State had a season-high 20.
"In the second half, they exposed us," Lusk said. "They got up and pressured us. We're a team that has been consistent in not turning the basketball over. We average about 10 a game. We're a national leader in it. They really bothered us."
The Salukis had a season-high 14 steals, and the only player who didn't seem bothered by it was Jarmar Gulley, who slashed his way to the hoop for 18 points.
"There comes a point to where you can't run sets, because they don't let you get catches," Lusk said. "So you have to eventually get a catch in your offense, drop your head and drive it, and that's what he was able to do."
Free throws were another key factor in the game. Missouri State made 23-of-25, while SIU converted just 11-of-19.
Southern appeared to simply run out of the gas at the end of the game.
"We used a lot of energy coming back and certain guys played a bunch of minutes in the second half because we needed to ride them," Lowery said.
Lowery used 12 players in an on-going search for the right combinations and roles.
"We can't discredit the fact we have eight new guys," he said. "We've blended them in. They're going to get better. They've gotten better. We don't know which ones are going to play."