Desmar Jackson had 13 points, three assists and three steals for SIU.
Jan. 11, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Evansville won for the first time at Southern Illinois since 2001, snapping a 12-game losing streak at SIU Arena with a 75-69 comeback victory.
The Purple Aces (8-9, 1-3) had lost their first three Missouri Valley Conference games by a total of 84 points, but today they rallied from a six-point halftime deficit behind a spectacular performance by sophomore guard D.J. Balentine, who scored 33 points, including 19 in the second half.
The league's leading scorer, Balentine took over the game early in the second stanza by scoring 15 points in a seven-minute span to begin the half. Six of his buckets in the game were 3-pointers, and his trey with 12:23 to go put Evansville up, 50-43.
"His energy level and attitude was great from start to finish," said Evansville head coach Marty Simmons. "He showed some leadership out there and never showed any doubt. I think he made his teammates believe. He scored in a lot of different ways and made good decisions."
Saluki head coach Barry Hinson switched between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone defense but neither could slow down Balentine.
"When a guy runs a fever, you gotta do something, you gotta take care of it," Hinson said.
Simmons, whose nine-man rotation features five freshmen and two sophomores, felt his team was beginning to crack under the strain of the Valley season. So the day after his team lost by 27 points at home to Northern Iowa, he cancelled practice and took them bowling.
"It's a little bit out of my belief system, but it was suggested by a couple of people, and I definitely think it helped our team," Simmons explained. "Yesterday's practice certainly had more energy, so I think we'll do it again in the future."
The Salukis (5-12, 1-3) did not resemble the energetic club that won by four points on Wednesday at Loyola.
"I was concerned about whether we could handle success coming back from Loyola, could we get our energy level back up?" Hinson said. "We could just never get there today. We just could not get them going."
Desmar Jackson, who was so good in scoring 31 points at Loyola, was limited to 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting, including 0-for-5 from 3-point.
"I thought he settled for threes," Hinson said. "Dez's game is going to the basket off the dribble. Look at what he did at Loyola and how good he was there."
Jackson tried to spark a comeback on several occasions in the second half. He made a three-point play to give SIU a brief lead, 52-51, with 8:43 remaining, but Evansville answered with a 9-2 run. Jackson then made a steal and a dunk to cut it to 60-56 with 5:44 to go, but the Salukis never seriously threatened the lead in the final five minutes.
"You don't hold Jackson to anything -- he's a heckuva player -- not just offensively but defensively we were very worried about him because he steals balls easy as anybody in the league," Simmons said.
The Salukis played without starting point guard Marcus Fillyaw, but seldom-used guard Mike Balogun picked up the slack with 15 points -- all of them coming on 3-pointers. Balogun had scored only two points in the team's previous six games and has seen limited playing time because Hinson considers him a liability on defense.
"We had a saying at Kansas that he's a basket magnet -- whoever he's guarding is going to get a basket," Hinson said. "He's got to get out of that mode, but he certainly gives us a threat offensively on the perimeter."
Southern entered the game ranked No. 321 in the nation in 3-point shooting, but that didn't stop the Salukis from unleashing 25 3-point shots in the game, making seven.
"We shot 25 threes and we're not a 3-point shooting team," Hinson said. "We had guys shooting threes today that had no business shooting threes, and we've got to figure that out. As a head coach I've got to make sure they understand who can and can't shoot threes."
Evansville improved to 3-5 on the road, and Simmons praised his team's composure down the stretch
"Southern has as good an atmosphere as any place in the league," he said. "When their fans get rocking, it's difficult to hear and it definitely intimidates you, and I thought our guys did a good job of maintaining their poise and stopping their run."