Jan. 24, 2009
By Tom Weber
NORMAL, Ill. - Illinois State had an answer for every Saluki run and held on to beat Southern Illinois, 70-63, Saturday at sold-out Redbird Arena.
The Salukis (9-11, 4-5) took solace in a splendid comeback. After falling behind by 18 points early in the second half, Southern quieted the crowd by cutting the deficit to single digits with a 13-4 run. The final 12 minutes of the game were a see-saw battle with each team stringing together short scoring bursts.
Justin Bocot keyed SIU's surge with 12 second-half points. A native of nearby Bloomington, the sophomore guard finished with a career-high 14.
"Justin's been getting better every game," Saluki head coach Chris Lowery said. "I'm glad he played well at home, because sometimes the first time home can be the worst game of your career."
For Bocot, it was just the opposite. He displayed an array of offensive moves, soaring to the basket for driving layups and pull-up jumpers. He also grabbed three steals on defense.
Bocot's free throws with 5:36 remaining sliced the lead to 64-59. Illinois State answered with a pair of free throws by Dinma Odiakosa and Lloyd Phillips, while SIU missed six-straight 3-point trys in the game's final five minutes.
Nevertheless, Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich was impressed by the Salukis' composure during the second half comeback.
"They handled it so well," he remarked. "They didn't panic. They were very methodical and business-like."
The Redbirds (17-3, 6-3) were poised to blow Southern out after shooting 70 percent from the field in the first half. They shot just 33 percent in the second.
"Give our guys credit when it got tight for getting the stops we needed and making the free throws," Jankovich said.
The Salukis forced 17 turnovers in the game, but the nation's sixth-best 3-point shooting team was just 3-of-15 from outside the arc.
"We're a much better 3-point shooting team than we showed today," added Lowery.
Lowery was pleased with the resiliency of his young team.
"Of course we're disappointed we lost the game, but to bring a team in here with playing mostly freshmen and first-year guys through the guts of the game -- last year bringing a very old team here and getting blown out -- we know we've made steps forward," he said.
Besides shaky 3-point shooting, the Salukis can blame the loss on a porous rebounding effort and an inability to slow down ISU's Champ Oguchi.
The Redbirds outrebounded Southern, 36-22. In the first half, Illinois State scored eight points directly off of offensive rebounds.
"I thought the building gave them energy today," Lowery said. "I thought we did a good job in the second half of really keeping the building at bay, not letting it explode, controlling the tempo."
The one player SIU couldn't control was Oguchi, a 6-foot-5 guard who scored 17 points. In Illinois State's four-guard lineup, he was a difficult matchup for the Salukis.
"It's a mismatch," Lowery said. "He's playing against forwards and centers. He's their four-man. Nobody's four in our league can guard him on the perimeter. You have to make him a post defender and then make them move him to the three."
"We tried to go at him early and make them move him to the three," Lowery said. "I thought once he got those 10 points, we threw inside a couple times and made Jank play him at the three. We played better when he was at the three and our guards can guard him."
The Salukis missed an opportunity to pull into a tie with the Redbirds in the Missouri Valley Conference standings, however, the two teams will play again in Carbondale a week from Wednesday.