March 7, 2014
By Tom Weber
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Saluki senior guard Desmar Jackson scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and snagged six steals during Friday night's quarterfinal game, but his most brilliant play won't even show up on the stat sheet.
With the outcome hanging in the balance, he literally saved the game, and allowed Southern Illinois to hold on for a 63-58 victory over Northern Iowa.
The Salukis (14-18) led by two points when freshman Sean O'Brien threw an errant full-court pass that was headed out of bounds with 44 seconds remaining. Running full speed, the 6-foot-5 Jackson snared the ball with one hand and tried to throw it off a Northern Iowa defender. Instead, the ball landed in the hands of teammate Anthony Beane, who laid the ball in the hoop to give SIU a 60-56 lead.
"That was great hustle by Dez not to give up on that play," said Beane. "When I saw it going out of bounds I just followed him."
The Panthers (16-15), who had minutes earlier rallied from a 19-point deficit to tie the game, were simply deflated, missing a pair of 3-point tries, while SIU sealed the victory at the free throw line.
Southern played nearly a perfect first half to stake itself to a 36-18 lead. Jackson was a one-man wrecking crew. With 20 points, he single-handedly outscored the Panthers. He was 7-of-9 from the field in the first half and made all three of his 3-point tries. In the final 5:45 of the half, SIU went on a devastating 13-0 run, in which Jackson had eight points in less than a two-minute span.
"We made sure we kept getting it back to him and he just kept running (points) off," said Beane who finished with 16 points of his own and seven rebounds.
UNI started strong in the second half, scoring the first six points, but the Salukis answered with a 7-0 run capped by a Jackson three-point play and had a seemingly insurmountable 43-24 lead with 16:45 to go.
Or so it seemed.
The Panthers never quit, and the Salukis went cold. After Southern missed 10-straight shots during one stretch, UNI cut the deficit to 48-39, with 8:21 in the game.
"Everybody's going to say that we panicked, but we just missed shots," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "We couldn't get the ball in (the basket) and it affected our confidence."
A layup by Davante Drinkard pushed SIU's lead back to 11 points with 6:18 to go, but Northern ran off 11-straight points to tie it, 52-52, on a pair of free throws by Seth Tuttle with 3:32 to go.
After Tyler Smithpeters missed a driving layup for the Salukis, Bola Olaniyan grabbed the offensive rebound, made the put-back and was fouled. His free throw gave SIU a three-point cushion, but UNI kept charging back. A driving layup by Wes Washpun with 48 seconds cut it to 58-56, and that's when Jackson saved the game by corralling the O'Brien in-bounds pass.
"I knew this could be my last game and I just wanted to give it my all and leave everything on the court," Jackson said.
Just 10 days ago, the Salukis lost by 18 points to UNI in Cedar Falls. They were dominated by Tuttle inside and the deadly 3-point shooting of his teammates in that game. Tonight, Tuttle had 15 points and 17 rebounds, but the Panthers were a woeful 4-for-22 from 3-point.
"We told our players three things -- we are prepared, we have to come to fight and we have to have a lot of energy," explained Hinson. "We did not do that at Northern Iowa. We had to get off to a great start. In all their wins, Northern has gotten off to a great start. We just couldn't allow them to do that."
The No. 6-seed Salukis advanced the semifinal game for the first time since 2007 and will play No. 2 seed Indiana State at 4:05 p.m. on Saturday.