Jan. 14, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes, and Desmar Jackson hit a game-winning fadeaway jumper with 5.8 seconds left, in a thrilling 68-66 win over Northern Iowa on Tuesday.
The Salukis (6-12, 2-3) trailed, 64-52, before Jackson started the comeback with a driving layup with 4:39 to go. He had eight points during the remarkable 16-2 run and finished the game with 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. With every Saluki bucket, the crowd of 4,278 got louder and louder until it reached a crescendo on Jackson's game winner.
The action-packed final minutes of the game featured clutch plays not just by Jackson, but also by freshman Sean O'Brien and senior Davante Drinkard. With 2:42 to go, O'Brien cut the deficit to 66-63 with a 3-pointer. After the teams traded empty possessions, Jackson tied it, 66-66, on a conventional three-point play with 1:10 remaining. Then Drinkard blocked a Seth Tuttle layup with 39 seconds on the clock, setting the stage for Jackson.
After a timeout, Southern ran the clock down to 10 seconds before Jackson came off a screen at the top of the key, drove to the baseline and made a high-arching 10 footer while falling down.
"We forced him to shoot a tough shot, but he's good enough he's going to make that shot probably more times than he misses it," said UNI head coach Ben Jacobson.
SIU head coach Barry Hinson said he installed the play several weeks ago but had yet to use it in a game.
"I kept it in the back of my mind waiting for the right moment," he said. "It just seemed like now was the time. We're going to put it in our best player's hands."
The Panthers (9-8, 3-2) had two good looks at the basket before the horn sounded, however Deon Mitchell's layup was swatted away by Jackson with a second left, and Chip Rank's put-back rolled off the rim.
Southern trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half, though it cut the deficit to 11 at halftime. The Salukis struggled to get open shots against UNI's man-to-man defense, going nearly 11 minutes without a field goal during one stretch and converting just 9-of-28 shots in the half. Hinson saw only one assist on the stat sheet at halftime and delivered a message to his players in the locker room.
"Whenever the ball is in your hands, I want you to go and get somebody else a great shot -- not you personally, but somebody else a great shot," he said.
SIU shot 63 percent in the second half along with 10 assists. Still, it looked like a wasted effort, since the Salukis were unable to stop 6-foot-8 forward Seth Tuttle, who led all scorers with 24 points. He made his team's final field goal with 4:49 remaining to give UNI a 12-point lead, and then Northern's offense went silent.
"Taking nothing away from Southern Illinois, but when you're on the road and you get up 12, you need to find a way to get that one," Jacobson said. "We had a couple of really good looks at the basket that didn't go."
O'Brien had 15 points and Anthony Beane added 14 for SIU, but it was seldom-used freshman Tyler Smithpeters who provided a key spark with a career-high eight points off the bench. He hadn't made a basket since the Western Kentucky game on Dec. 7.
"We got a glimpse of what Tyler Smithpeters can do," Hinson said. "I'm not even talking about offensively. I thought he really played well defensively."
The Salukis have a chance to get to .500 in the Valley for the first time since January of 2011 when they play at Bradley on Friday night.