Desmar Jackson scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead SIU.
Feb. 27, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois extended its home winning streak to five games -- the longest since 2009 -- by clamping down defensively on Northern Iowa in a 63-57 victory on Senior Night at SIU Arena on Wednesday.
The Salukis (13-16, 5-12) are getting hot just as the conference tournament approaches, having won five of their last seven games. They matched last year's Missouri Valley Conference win total and sent their three seniors -- Kendal Brown-Surles, Jeff Early and T.J. Lindsay -- out on a high note.
"I'm really happy for our three seniors," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "I've always made a big deal about Senior Night. This was my 12th Senior Night as a head coach and I've never had a team get beat on Senior Night."
SIU played its best defensive game of the conference season, holding the visitors to 38 percent shooting and forcing 16 turnovers. Southern's D recorded 11 steals that led to 15 fast-break points, as the team jumped to a 39-24 halftime advantage. Desmar Jackson had 14 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, including a pair of highlight reel dunks.
"We weren't strong enough with the ball in traffic and it led to points without our defense being set," said UNI head coach Ben Jacobson.
The Panthers (17-13, 10-7) struggled to run their offense without leading scorer, Anthony James, who was sidelined with a thigh bruise that he suffered in Saturday's BracketBusters game. They were just 8-for-32 from 3-point range.
"You're so far along into a routine of what you're doing at both ends of the floor, and you take away somebody who is that experienced and that valuable to you at both ends of the floor (as James)," Jacobson said.
UNI played pretty strong defense of its own in the second half, holding the Salukis scoreless for more than eight minutes and trimming a 15-point deficit to five with 4:43 remaining. The Salukis finally broke through when Jackson made a pair of free throws with 2:50 remaining to push SIU's lead to 50-43.
The Panthers made one final push, cutting the deficit to 58-54 on a 3-pointer by Marc Sonnen with 31 seconds remaining, but Jackson iced the game with two free throws with 22 seconds to go.
"We told the team at halftime, you know they're going to make a run," Hinson said. "We know it because we're good at imploding."
With one game remaining on the league schedule, SIU is locked into the No. 10 seed at next week's MVC Tournament in St. Louis -- the first time Southern has been No. 10 since the league expanded the conference tournament to 10 teams in 1997.
After starting the conference season 1-10, the Salukis have played free and easy the month of February, not worried about wins and losses, and suddenly the wins are taking care of themselves. Hinson said the turning point was the team's 37-point loss to Illinois State on Feb. 2.
"After the Illinois State game, we sat down as a group and said we're not going to stop," he explained. "We're going to try to get better every day. Attitude and effort -- as long as you do that -- don't worry about the scoreboard."
The Salukis have gotten stellar play from their three seniors. In his post-game press conference, Hinson noted that it was Lindsay's 14-point first half in the upset win over Wichita State that got the train rolling. Since then, Early has played spectacularly -- he had 14 points, eight rebounds and three steals tonight -- and Brown-Surles has been a steady floor general.
"I've always written my three seniors a note and put it on their chair for the last home game," Hinson said. "Basically, I told them I'm proud of them and how they've grown as young men this year."
The Salukis play one more regular-season game at Drake on Saturday, and then will play either Bradley, Drake, Illinois State or Missouri State next Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the Scottrade Center.