Desmar Jackson scored 12 points to lead SIU.
March 7, 2013
By Tom Weber
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - The clock struck midnight for the Cinderella Saluki Basketball team in its opening-round game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday.
No. 7 seed Missouri State, led by Freshman of the Year Marcus Marshall's 18 points, beat No. 10 seed Southern Illinois, 61-53, ending a late-season rise by an SIU team that won six of its last eight regular-season games.
The Salukis (14-17) had high hopes of pulling off an upset or two at Arch Madness, but they did not resemble the team that was among the hottest clubs in the league the last four weeks. SIU committed 22 personal fouls, which allowed the Bears (11-21) to pile up a 22-10 advantage at the free throw line. MSU also scored 19 points off of 16 SIU turnovers.
"We're certainly a better ball club than that, but we didn't show it tonight, and this time of the year, if you don't show it, you get to go home," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson, whose team bounced back from a 1-10 start to its conference season by playing competitive basketball down the home stretch.
Southern led 13-10 at the nine-minute mark of the first half, but top scorer Desmar Jackson went to the bench with his second foul, and the Bears took advantage with a decisive 22-9 run. SIU committed 10 turnovers in the first half and generally looked out of sync on offense.
"They started getting into a matchup zone and a 2-3 zone, and we had trouble attacking the middle," said Saluki senior guard T.J. Lindsay. "That caused us to be really stagnant on the perimeter and take outside shots."
Marshall and teammate Anthony Downing, who scored 16 points, probed and penetrated the Saluki defense for easy buckets or fouls. They combined for 15 of their team's 22 free throw attempts.
"They got to shoot a lot of free throws because they were on the attack mode and we couldn't keep them in front of us," Hinson lamented. "I thought Marshall and Downing put us on our back heels, defensively. Late in the first half and once we got into some foul situations and rotation, it really bothered us."
The Salukis came as close as five points in the second half, 39-34, on an Anthony Beane 3-pointer with 12:58 remaining, but Keith Pickens responded with a three-point play that started a back-breaking 8-0 MSU run. The Bears led by double digits the rest of the way until a bucket by Jalen Pendleton with four seconds to go cut the final margin to nine.
"We had a lot of mental mistakes," said Saluki senior guard Kendal Brown-Surles, who finished with three assists and one turnover, but was held scoreless for just the second time this year. "It's the conference tournament, you get juiced up and do things out of the ordinary."
Senior forward Jeff Early, who has been the heart and soul of the team during its late-season resurgence, was held to eight points and three rebounds -- well below his season averages.
"I felt we were a better team than them and had a great chance in this tournament," he said. "I think we were looking too far ahead, maybe looking past Missouri State to Wichita."
Hinson lavished praise upon his three seniors, saying they helped lay the foundation for future improvement in the program.
"I think what we did in the month of February was pretty outstanding," he said. "They didn't quit. We stopped a lot of streaks, we got better."
Brown-Surles, a four-year point guard for the program, echoed those sentiments.
"The outcome wasn't what we wanted, but I'm proud to say we're not quitters, we're fighters," he said. "We got put in a tough situation, but at the same time, we kept our head up and took it one game at a time."
As the end of his college career began to sink in, Lindsay was emotional.
"I had a great career here," he said. I'm glad I picked SIU. I had some life-changing experiences and all I can take from it is positives. I have no regrets and I love being a Saluki."
Early said the the seniors will take satisfaction in seeing the program improve during the next few years.