Feb. 18, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois won a critical game over Bradley on Tuesday night, 75-64, giving it a leg up in the battle for a coveted top-six seed at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
The top six teams skip the tournament's play-in round, and the Salukis (11-17, 7-8) moved into sixth place, a game ahead of the Braves (11-17, 6-9). Red-hot guard Anthony Beane matched his career high with 27 points for SIU -- the sixth time he's scored 20 or more in the last seven games -- and Desmar Jackson chipped in 15, giving him 1,006 points in his two-year career.
Bradley started the game in a triangle-and-two defense in a concerted effort to stop the dynamic duo of Beane and Jackson. It had little effect, as Southern jumped out to a 16-7 advantage, with 11 points coming from Beane.
"Defensively, when you come into a game and there's only two guys you're worried about, and they go for 27 and 15, it's inexcusable," said Bradley head coach Geno Ford. "Nobody accepted the challenge to guard those guys."
SIU took its biggest lead, 24-12, on a driving layup by Jackson with 8:49 to go. The Braves countered with a 21-9 run of their own and actually led at halftime, 35-33. Walt Lemon Jr. had nine of his 17 points in the first half and Omari Greer came off the bench to make a couple of 3-pointers for the visitors. Grier hit another three-ball to start the second half to put Bradley up five.
"When I came into the locker room at halftime, I looked at my staff and said, `hey, we've got problems, we're in trouble,'" said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "When we came out in the second half, even though (Bradley) made the (3-point) shot, I looked at my staff and said I feel ok, because we were flying around.'"
Switching between a 2-3 zone and a man-to-man, SIU limited Bradley to 9-of-26 shooting in the second half, while Southern made 14-of-24.
Three starters -- Auston Barnes, Xzavier Taylor and Ka'Darryl Bell -- fouled out for the Braves in the second half, and none of them played more than 21 minutes in the contest. For a team that only goes seven deep, it was too much to overcome.
"Our margin of error is not big," Ford said. "Barnes was the one who was giving us life and it was a totally different game when he was in than when he was out. Barnes being out of the game was the death blow for us."
Bradley stayed within single digits for much of the second half, coming as close as 61-55 with 3:49 to go, but Beane helped seal the win by making six-straight free throws and soaring for a breakaway dunk in the final minute to put an exclamation point on the victory.
"Anthony Beane has become a great player," Ford said. "Barry should get an award for the greatest hire of all-time (Anthony Beane Sr.). If (Beane Sr.) doesn't get father of the year for Carbondale, something's wrong. That kid is playing unbelievable."
Free-throw shooting remains an Achilles heel for Southern, as it went 20-for-32 from the charity stripe. Bradley went so far as to purposely foul Jalen Pendleton once in the first half and again late in the game. After missing his first two, though, he made 5-of-6.
Southern won the battle of the boards, 37-30, and freshman center Bola Olaniyan had his second double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Six of his rebounds came on the offensive end.
"We're not going to win many ballgames unless our five-men -- Bola, Davante (Drinkard) and Bronson (Verhines) -- average a double-double," Hinson said. "Tonight, they did and consequently we were successful."
With three games left in the regular season, the Salukis appear to be well-positioned to finish in the top six, because they have a slight advantage over Bradley in the tiebreaker. When teams split their season series, they are seeded according to non-conference strength of schedule.
"It's really unfortunate if the tie-breaker were to come down between us and it goes strength of schedule, because they played a non-Division I, which doesn't factor, and we played all Division I schools," said Ford. "If we subbed out for a Division II, we'd have a higher strength of schedule."
With so much at stake, Hinson was simply pleased his team got the W.
"I knew it was going to be a dogfight," he said. "I did not take this game for granted. I thought all along it would go down to the wire, because both of us had our backs up against the wall."