Men's Basketball picks up critical win at Evansville, 61-56

    Anthony Beane slams home two points.

    Anthony Beane slams home two points.
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    Feb. 22, 2014

    By Tom Weber

    Final Stats |  Photo Gallery 

    EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Southern Illinois picked up a critical road win on Saturday night, topping Evansville, 61-56, to stay in the thick of the race for seeds three through six at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

    Wichita State and Indiana State are locked-in at the 1-2 spots atop the MVC, but the final week of the regular season will find a frantic scramble for tournament seeding among the remaining teams.

    The Salukis (12-17, 8-8) won for the sixth time in their last eight contests, and depending on how the last two games of the regular season shake out, could finish anywhere from the No. 3 to the No. 8 seed. The Purple Aces (11-18, 4-12), meanwhile, have lost seven of their last eight and can finish no higher than eighth in the 10-team league.

    Anthony Beane led SIU with 22 points, while Desmar Jackson added 15 points and five steals. Evansville's D.J. Ballentine, the league's leading scorer, was held to just two points.

    Southern jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first half, knocking down four 3-point shots in the first nine minutes of the game, but didn't hit another one the rest of the way. Cold shooting (36 percent from the field) and 16 turnovers allowed the Aces back into the game. UE rallied to take a 39-37 on a layup by Egidijus Mockevicius layup with 11:50 remaining in the game. The 6-foot-10 sophomore center had 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead Evansville.

    The game was nip and tuck the rest of the way, and the difference came down to rebounding, where Southern held a commanding 45-26 advantage, including 22 offensive boards -- seven of them by Bola Olaniyan. During one sequence at Southern's end of the floor the Salukis hauled down four offensive boards before Jackson was fouled and made a pair of free throws.

    It was still anyone's ballgame in the final minute. Blake Simmons drilled a 3-pointer to slice Southern's lead to 56-54 with 43 seconds to go. Beane then turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds pass, giving Evansville an opportunity to tie or take the lead, but Duane Gibson promptly threw the ball out of bounds for the Aces.

    "I felt like I was at a Penecostal tent revival -- thank you Jesus," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson.

    Evansville missed shots on its next two possessions, and the Salukis sealed the victory by making 5-of-6 free throws.

    "Their ability to execute the last five minutes was far, far better than ours -- just with offense, defense, on the glass, free throw block-out," said Evansville coach Marty Simmons.

    The game was billed as a battle between the league's top two scorers, but Ballentine, who had 33 in his team's win at Carbondale in January, was 1-for-8 from the field.

    "What he did at our facility was an embarrassment to our program and how we feel about defense," Hinson said. "He came in and just blistered us. We made him the focal point tonight."

    The Salukis played man-to-man, switching man-to-man and zone defense to hold he Aces to 3-of-16 shooting from the perimeter.

    Jackson was 8-of-8 from the free throw line for the Salukis but only 3-of-14 from the field. He made his presence known on the defensive end, though, with five steals, and all of them led to fast-break scoring opportunities.

    "I thought Desmar was one of the greatest players I've ever seen tonight and one of the worst players I've ever seen," Hinson joked.

    With his seventh 20-point outing in the last eight games, Beane remains one of the hottest players in the league.

    "He just seems to be more and more aggressive off the dribble and making plays," Simmons said. "He's a tough matchup and a terrific player."

    SIU won its second-straight game and posted its third road victory of the season.

    "Win at home, big deal -- you gotta go win on the road and we did, and that's a huge step for us," Hinson said.