Tyler Smithpeters buries game-winning 3-pointer to lift Salukis past Redbirds, 66-65

    Salukis celebrate win over Illinois State.

    Salukis celebrate win over Illinois State.
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    March 1, 2014

    By Tom Weber

    Final Stats |  Photo Gallery 

    CARBONDALE, Ill. - It was Senior Day at sold-out SIU Arena, but a freshman saved the day for the Salukis.

    Tyler Smithpeters buried a 28-footer from the left wing with nine seconds remaining to lift Southern Illinois to a 66-65 victory over Illinois State and cause the first capacity crowd in six years to erupt with joy.

    "We do not win this game unless our fans are here today," said an emotional SIU head coach Barry Hinson afterward. "That was just music."

    The Salukis (13-18, 9-9) surrendered a seven-point lead in the last five minutes, but ISU opened the door for a comeback by missing two free throws in the final 31 seconds. That gave Southern, which trailed, 65-63, a chance to tie or take the lead on its last possession.

    With defenders draped on star guards Desmar Jackson and Anthony Beane, Smithpeters took matters into his own hands, launching a step-back three that caught nothing but nylon.

    "This was an `I was there game,'" Hinson said. `I was there when we sold it out for the first time in six years. I was there when the kid from Harrisburg made the three."

    It was Smithpeters' third 3-pointer and 11th point of the day -- marking only the third time this season he's reached double figures.

    "He's a cocky little stinker," Hinson joked. "But you gotta have those guys. Cocky little stinkers make big plays."

    The Redbirds (16-14, 9-9) had one last chance to win it, but center Reggie Lynch could not get a shot off from 12 feet away before the horn sounded. Illinois State head coach Dan Muller said he thought Southern's defense was in man-to-man, when in fact they were playing zone.

    "The play was to get it back to Bobby (Hunter) and have him try to make a play," he said. "I put Reggie in a bad position. I thought they'd stay in man."

    Said Hinson, "We did not want to foul, but we wanted to contest the shot, and golly, we got better than that -- they couldn't even get a shot off."

    The score was tied 11 times and the lead changed hands 11 more times in a hotly contested game. Southern had a massive 43-21 advantage in rebounding, but it shot only 39 percent from the field. The Redbirds shot 46 percent from the field, but their four-guard lineup was overmatched on the glass, and Lynch played only 18 minutes in the game due to foul trouble. Daishon Knight led the Redbirds with 15 points.

    "They got the ball in the middle of our zone a lot, which takes our big man away from the boards and opens guys up on the back side," said Muller.

    Anthony Beane had 21 points and Desmar Jackson added 18 for the Salukis, who finished the conference season in a three-way tie for fourth place -- a dramatic improvement over last year's 10th-place finish. They will be the No. 6 seed and play No. 3 Northern Iowa next Friday night at 8:35 p.m.

    "I think it gives us great evidence that we're finally turning the corner," Hinson said. "If that today wasn't a statement enough that our fans are excited, I don't know what more we could do."

    Four seniors played their final game at SIU Arena and all four were in the starting lineup -- Jackson, Bronson Verhines, Davante Drinkard and Colby Long.