Nov. 28, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - With 12 seconds left in a tie ballgame, Desmar Jackson launched an off-balance 3-pointer that caught nothing but nylon as the shot clock expired, giving Southern Illinois a 57-54 victory over Fresno State on Wednesday.
The Salukis (4-1) sent a crowd of 5,409 -- the largest since the Creighton game in 2011 -- home with smiles on their faces as the team is off to its best start since 2006.
"I'm really proud of the effort our fans made and proud of the effort our players made," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "More importantly, I'm really happy for you."
Two players carried the Salukis on their backs. Jackson finished with a career-high 25 points and made 3-of-4 from 3-point range, while Jeff Early had his fourth-career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"Jackson was tough all night and made plays when he had to down the stretch," said Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry, whose team could not get off a clean shot at the final horn. "I give him a lot of credit. He had an answer all night at the end of the shot clock."
The Salukis led by as many as 12 points in the second half before the Bulldogs (3-3) rallied to take a 52-50 lead on a driving layup by Tyler Johnson with 2:22 remaining. Neither team led by more than one point thereafter, until Jackson hit his 3-pointer.
"(Desmar) has an incredible offensive pace, which absolutely drives me nuts," Hinson said. "He's slow and methodical. No one rushes him. It's pretty good at a moment like that, that you have that pace."
The Wyoming transfer, who sat out last season, has had up-and-down performances so far this year and entered the game shooting 37 percent from the field. Hinson said he wasn't worried about the junior guard's offense, however.
"I told him before the game started, you have one minute, maybe 30 seconds, if you come out and don't get in a stance and don't guard, you're coming immediately out of the game," Hinson said. "I think we're going to let him play the next game."
Southern's defense set the tone early by holding the Bulldogs scoreless for the first seven minutes of the contest and without a field goal until Kevin Olekaibe made a 3-pointer with 9:11 to go in the first half. The problem for SIU was that it struggled nearly as much on offense, converting just one field goal during a six-minute span of the first half. Jackson finally took over with a flurry of late baskets, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer just before the half.
The victory was all the more remarkable considering Hinson threw his entire team out of practice on Tuesday after just 10 minutes.
"I felt like we took it for granted," he explained. "I told our players today at practice, how we can ever take for granted the opportunity to run out there and play basketball blows my mind. I asked them, do you want to do it your way or do you want to do it our way? Thank goodness they wanted to do it our way."
A week after challenging Saluki fans to turn out in large numbers for tonight's game, Hinson was effusive in his praise for the fans.
"It was really more of a plea than anything -- could you come help us?" he said. "For the 5,400 people today that came and watched us play, I can't thank you enough. Our players were so excited. They came running in the locker room after shoot-around and said, 'Coach, there's people in the stands.'"
"There's no chance we win that game tonight unless they're here. It was really special -- thank you."