Jeff Early led SIU with 20 points.
Feb. 16, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - In a low-possession, defensive struggle, Southern Illinois topped Missouri State, 62-54, on Saturday night at SIU Arena.
The Salukis (11-15, 4-11) have won back-to-back games in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time since winning two-straight in early January of 2012 -- a span of 29 games. They've done it with solid defense, holding their last two opponents below 45 percent from the field. MSU shot 43 percent and was held to 3-of-16 from 3-point range.
"We're not a great offensive team, but when we buckle down, and rebound and guard, we're not too bad," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson.
Southern threw a blanket over Missouri State's offense during the first five minutes of the contest -- building a 10-0 lead and forcing eight-straight missed shots.
Senior forward Jeff Early provided the offensive firepower for SIU, scoring 14 first-half points and finishing with 20 on the night. He did most of his damage with mid-range jumpers, converting 8-of-12 from the field while using his unorthodox, off-balance delivery.
"He was feeling it," Hinson said. "When he kicks that head back and starts kicking those feet and shooting it like that, and doing all that Puerto Rican-ancestry chest-bumping, you know he's in the zone," laughed Hinson.
The Bears (8-19, 6-9) trailed the entire game and by nine at halftime, but made two serious runs in the second half.
They started the second half with a 10-2 run, cutting the deficit to 33-32 with 16:17 remaining in the game. Anthony Downing scored nine of his team-high 20 points during that run.
SIU responded with six-straight points, including a couple of buckets by Early. Before Saluki fans could take a deep breath, the Bears trimmed the lead to 40-38 at the midway point of the half. They had possession of the ball with a chance to tie, but missed two free throws and two point-blank shot attempts.
"When you're on the road and playing against a team that's fighting and playing hard, you have to make those kind of plays," said Bears' head coach Paul Lusk. "Our margin for error is very small. We had our chances and let it slip away."
T.J. Lindsay made perhaps the biggest shot of the night on SIU's next possession, hitting a 3-pointer from the left corner to put Southern up by five. SIU was only 2-for-12 from 3-point range in the game, but made 20-of-31 shots inside the arc.
"T.J. is our best 3-point shooter and we need to figure that out as a staff and as a team," said Hinson. "We're not a good perimeter team, but when we get the ball inside, we're starting to do some things."
The Salukis led by as many as 12 points, but the Bears cut it to six with 1:55 to go on a layup by Christian Kirk, who scored 13 points off the bench for MSU. SIU had three offensive rebounds on its next possession before Early was fouled and made both free throws to put his team up by eight points with a minute to go.
"(Early's) a very good player and plays as hard as anyone in the league," Lusk said. "He really gave us problems tonight."
Southern avenged an 11-point loss at Missouri State on Dec. 30, a game that was packed with emotion for Hinson, who coached the Bears for nine seasons.
"The first game was a lot of drama, a lot of pressure, a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions," he said. "I was absolutely sick to my stomach. I called it a humiliating loss, and that was my immaturity. I shouldn't have said that. That's not right to those players. Tonight, no question, it was another ballgame."
"Tonight, it felt like the way it should be -- it felt like another game," Hinson said. "Paul Lusk is the coach of the Bears, and I am an SIU Saluki, go dawgs, ruff-ruff."